The ecological foundations of transmission potential and vector-borne disease in urban landscapes

Shannon L. LaDeau, Brian F. Allan, Paul T. Leisnham, Michael Z. Levy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Urban transmission of arthropod-vectored disease has increased in recent decades. Understanding and managing transmission potential in urban landscapes requires integration of sociological and ecological processes that regulate vector population dynamics, feeding behaviour and vector-pathogen interactions in these unique ecosystems. Vectorial capacity is a key metric for generating predictive understanding about transmission potential in systems with obligate vector transmission. This review evaluates how urban conditions, specifically habitat suitability and local temperature regimes, and the heterogeneity of urban landscapes can influence the biologically relevant parameters that define vectorial capacity: vector density, survivorship, biting rate, extrinsic incubation period and vector competence. Incidence of vector-borne disease in urban host populations is rarely, if ever, evenly distributed across an urban area. The persistence and quality of vector habitat can vary significantly across socio-economic boundaries to influence vector species composition and abundance, often generating socio-economically distinct gradients of transmission potential across neighbourhoods. Urban regions often experience unique temperature regimes, broadly termed urban heat islands (UHI). Arthropod vectors are ectothermic organisms, and their growth, survival and behaviour are highly sensitive to environmental temperatures. Vector response to UHI conditions is dependent on regional temperature profiles relative to the vector's thermal performance range. In temperate climates, UHI can facilitate increased vector development rates while having countervailing influence on survival and feeding behaviour. Understanding how urban heat island (UHI) conditions alter thermal and moisture constraints across the vector life cycle to influence transmission processes is an important direction for both empirical and modelling research. There remain persistent gaps in understanding of vital rates and drivers in mosquito-vectored disease systems, and vast holes in understanding for other arthropod-vectored diseases. Empirical studies are needed to better understand the physiological constraints and socio-ecological processes that generate heterogeneity in critical transmission parameters, including vector survival and fitness. Likewise, laboratory experiments and transmission models must evaluate vector response to realistic field conditions, such as variability in sociological and environmental conditions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)889-901
Number of pages13
JournalFunctional Ecology
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 1 2015


  • Climate
  • Mosquito
  • Pathogen
  • Socio-ecology
  • Tick
  • Triatomine
  • Urban heat island
  • Vector
  • Vectorial capacity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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