Research Article

Integrating the landscape epidemiology and genetics of RNA viruses: rabies in domestic dogs as a model

K. BRUNKERa1 c1, K. HAMPSONa1, D. L. HORTONa2 and R. BIEKa1

a1 Institute of Biodiversity, Animal Health and Comparative Medicine, Medical Research Council-University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research, College of Medical, Veterinary and Life Sciences, Graham Kerr Building, University of Glasgow, Glasgow G12 8QQ

a2 Wildlife Zoonoses and Vector Borne Diseases Group, Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency, Weybridge, Woodham Lane, New Haw, Addlestone, Surrey KT15 3NB


Landscape epidemiology and landscape genetics combine advances in molecular techniques, spatial analyses and epidemiological models to generate a more real-world understanding of infectious disease dynamics and provide powerful new tools for the study of RNA viruses. Using dog rabies as a model we have identified how key questions regarding viral spread and persistence can be addressed using a combination of these techniques. In contrast to wildlife rabies, investigations into the landscape epidemiology of domestic dog rabies requires more detailed assessment of the role of humans in disease spread, including the incorporation of anthropogenic landscape features, human movements and socio-cultural factors into spatial models. In particular, identifying and quantifying the influence of anthropogenic features on pathogen spread and measuring the permeability of dispersal barriers are important considerations for planning control strategies, and may differ according to cultural, social and geographical variation across countries or continents. Challenges for dog rabies research include the development of metapopulation models and transmission networks using genetic information to uncover potential source/sink dynamics and identify the main routes of viral dissemination. Information generated from a landscape genetics approach will facilitate spatially strategic control programmes that accommodate for heterogeneities in the landscape and therefore utilise resources in the most cost-effective way. This can include the efficient placement of vaccine barriers, surveillance points and adaptive management for large-scale control programmes.

(Received March 04 2012)

(Revised May 03 2012)

(Accepted May 11 2012)

(Online publication July 20 2012)

Key words

  • Canis familiaris ;
  • landscape genetics;
  • phylogeography;
  • spatial heterogeneity;
  • transmission dynamics;
  • vaccination;
  • zoonosis


c1 Corresponding author: Kirstyn Brunker,