Effects of host social hierarchy on disease persistence

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5 Citations (Scopus)


The effects of social hierarchy on population dynamics and epidemiology are examined through a model which contains a number of fundamental features of hierarchical systems, but is simple enough to allow analytical insight. In order to allow for differences in birth rates, contact rates and movement rates among different sets of individuals the population is first divided into subgroups representing levels in the hierarchy. Movement, representing dominance challenges, is allowed between any two levels, giving a completely connected network. The model includes hierarchical effects by introducing a set of dominance parameters which affect birth rates in each social level and movement rates between social levels, dependent upon their rank. Although natural hierarchies vary greatly in form, the skewing of contact patterns, introduced here through non-uniform dominance parameters, has marked effects on the spread of disease. A simple homogeneous mixing differential equation model of a disease with SI dynamics in a population subject to simple birth and death process is presented and it is shown that the hierarchical model tends to this as certain parameter regions are approached. Outside of these parameter regions correlations within the system give rise to deviations from the simple theory. A Gaussian moment closure scheme is developed which extends the homogeneous model in order to take account of correlations arising from the hierarchical structure, and it is shown that the results are in reasonable agreement with simulations across a range of parameters. This approach helps to elucidate the origin of hierarchical effects and shows that it may be straightforward to relate the correlations in the model to measurable quantities which could be used to determine the importance of hierarchical corrections. Overall, hierarchical effects decrease the levels of disease present in a given population compared to a homogeneous unstructured model, but show higher levels of disease than structured models with no hierarchy. The separation between these three models is greatest when the rate of dominance challenges is low, reducing mixing, and when the disease prevalence is low. This suggests that these effects will often need to be considered in models being used to examine the impact of control strategies where the low disease prevalence behaviour of a model is critical.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)424 - 433
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Theoretical Biology
Publication statusFirst published - 2008

Bibliographical note



  • Disease dynamics
  • Hetrogenous contact structure
  • Moment closure


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