A gravity model for the spread of a pollinator-borne plant pathogen

M. Ferrari, O.N. Bjørnstad, J.L. Partain and J. Antonovics: A gravity model for the spread of a pollinator-borne plant pathogen

American Naturalist (2006) 168: 294-303


Many pathogens of plants are transmitted by arthropod vectors whose movement between individual hosts is influenced by foraging behavior. Insect foraging has been shown to depend on both the quality of hosts and the distances between hosts. Given the spatial distribution of host plants and individual variation in quality, vector foraging patterns may therefore produce predictable variation in exposure to pathogens. We develop a “gravity” model to describe the spatial spread of a vector-borne plant pathogen from underlying models of insect foraging in response to host quality using the pollinator-borne smut fungus Microbotryum violaceum as a case study.We fit the model to spatially explicit time series of M. violaceum transmission in replicate experimental plots of the white campion Silene latifolia. The gravity model provides a better fit than a mean field model or a model with only distance-dependent transmission. The results highlight the importance of active vector foraging in generating spatial patterns of disease incidence and for pathogenmediated selection for floral traits.

Keywords: gravity model, Microbotryum, Silene, spatial model, vectorborne pathogen.