NCEAS Project 2102

The influence of body size on effects of disease in natural populations

  • Leah R. Gerber

ActivityDatesFurther Information
Postdoctoral Fellow15th January 1999—14th January 2001Participant List  

I seek to integrate two promising avenues of ecological research: the study of allometric relationships and scaling laws with the study of disease dynamics within hosts of self-contained microbial ecosystems. Most physiological processes that have been quantified scale in a predictable manner with body size. Many of these body-size dependent processes (such as body temperature, metabolic rate, fever, etc.) are likely to influence the course of infection within an animal. I am interested in how these size-dependent processes alter pathogen population growth. Rather than simply examining the factors that influence microbial population growth, I aim to consider infection dynamics as a question of pathogen population growth in a potentially hostile environment. This environment includes attacking natural enemies, nutrient supply rate and toxic chemicals that influence both pathogen and the host. I hope to explore these ideas broadly, but to start with the simple question of fever as a function of body size. Fever is known to vary between children and adults, but the comparison confounds age with size. By searching for data on dwarfs and using statistical techniques to factor out age, I will assess the extent to which fever scales with body size and in turn how the duration of an infection scales with body size. Other aspects of immune responses such as white blood cell counts and stress hormone titres will be explored as well. Understanding the duration of an infection is not just an issue at the individual level, but is a critical parameter defining the threshold host density at which epidemics erupt, and the basic reproductive rate for infections. This duration has received scant attention in the literature, but may be one of the most labile aspects of disease dynamics.

TypeProducts of NCEAS Research
Journal Article Gerber, Leah R.; DeMaster, D. 1999. A quantitative approach to Endangered Species Act classification of long-lived vertebrates: Application to the North Pacific humpback whale. Conservation Biology. Vol: 13. Pages 1203-1214.
Journal Article Gerber, Leah R.; DeMaster, D.; Kareiva, Peter. 1999. Gray whales and the value of monitoring data in implementing the Endangered Species Act. Conservation Biology. Vol: 13. Pages 1215-1219.
Journal Article Gerber, Leah R. 1999. Marine conservation marine reserves. McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Science and Technology. McGraw-Hill Book Co. New York.
Journal Article Gerber, Leah R.; Hilborn, Ray. 2001. Catastrophic events and recovery from low densities in populations of otariids: Implications for risk of extinction. Mammal Review. Vol: 31. Pages 131-150.
Journal Article Gerber, Leah R.; VanBlaricom, Glenn. 2001. Implications of three viability models for the conservation status of the western population of Steller sea lions (Eumetopias jubatus). Biological Conservation. Vol: 102. Pages 261-269.
Journal Article Gerber, Leah R.; Reichman, O. J.; Roughgarden, Joan. 2004. Food hoarding: Future value in optimal foraging decisions. Ecological Modelling. Vol: 175(1). Pages 77-85.
Journal Article Gerber, Leah R.; Tinker, M. Timothy; Doak, Daniel F.; Estes, James A.; Jessup, David A. 2004. Mortality sensitivity in life-stage simulation analysis: A case study of Southern sea otters. Ecological Applications. Vol: 14(5). Pages 1554-1565.
Journal Article VanBlaricom, Glenn; Gerber, Leah R.; Brownell, R. 2001. Extinctions of marine mammals. Encyclopedia of Biodiversity. Vol: 4. Academic Press. San Diego, CA. Pages 37-69.