Seasonality and pathogen transmission in pastoral cattle contact networks

Kimberly VanderWaal, Marie Gilbertson, Sharon Okanga, Brian F. Allan, Meggan E. Craft

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Capturing heterogeneity in contact patterns in animal populations is essential for understanding the spread of infectious diseases. In contrast to other regions of the world in which livestock movement networks are integral to pathogen prevention and control policies, contact networks are understudied in pastoral regions of Africa due to the challenge of measuring contact among mobile herds of cattle whose movements are driven by access to resources. Furthermore, the extent to which seasonal changes in the distribution of water and resources impacts the structure of contact networks in cattle is uncertain. Contact networks may be more conducive to pathogen spread in the dry season due to congregation at limited water sources. Alternatively, less abundant forage may result in decreased pathogen transmission due to competitive avoidance among herds, as measured by reduced contact rates. Here, we use GPS technology to concurrently track 49 free-roaming cattle herds within a semi-arid region of Kenya, and use these data to characterize seasonal contact networks and model the spread of a highly infectious pathogen. This work provides the first empirical data on the local contact network structure of mobile herds based on quantifiable contact events. The contact network demonstrated high levels of interconnectivity. An increase in contacts near to water resources in the dry season resulted in networks with both higher contact rates and higher potential for pathogen spread than in the wet season. Simulated disease outbreaks were also larger in the dry season. Results support the hypothesis that limited water resources enhance connectivity and transmission within contact networks, as opposed to reducing connectivity as a result of competitive avoidance. These results cast light on the impact of seasonal heterogeneity in resource availability on predicting pathogen transmission dynamics, which has implications for other free-ranging wild and domestic populations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number170808
JournalRoyal Society Open Science
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2017


  • Animal movement
  • Ecology
  • Infectious disease
  • Network analysis
  • Pathogen

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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