Are disease reservoirs special? Taxonomic and life history characteristics

Benjamin T. Plourde, Tristan L. Burgess, Evan A. Eskew, Tara M. Roth, Nicole Stephenson, Janet E Foley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Pathogens that spill over between species cause a significant human and animal health burden. Here, we describe characteristics of animal reservoirs that are required for pathogen spillover. We assembled and analyzed a database of 330 disease systems in which a pathogen spills over from a reservoir of one or more species. Three-quarters of reservoirs included wildlife, and 84% included mammals. Further, 65% of pathogens depended on a community of reservoir hosts, rather than a single species, for persistence. Among mammals, the most frequently identified reservoir hosts were rodents, artiodactyls, and carnivores. The distribution among orders of mammalian species identified as reservoirs did not differ from that expected by chance. Among disease systems with high priority pathogens and epidemic potential, we found birds, primates, and bats to be overrepresented. We also analyzed the life history traits of mammalian reservoir hosts and compared them to mammals as a whole. Reservoir species had faster life history characteristics than mammals overall, exhibiting traits associated with greater reproductive output rather than long-Term survival. Thus, we find that in many respects, reservoirs of spillover pathogens are indeed special. The described patterns provide a useful resource for studying and managing emerging infectious diseases.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0180716
JournalPLoS One
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 1 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


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