In This Article Ecology of Emerging Zoonotic Viruses

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Environmental and Anthropogenic Determinants
  • Virus Stability and Persistence
  • Ecology of Viruses between Hosts

Ecology Ecology of Emerging Zoonotic Viruses
Vincent Munster, Seth Judson, Michael Letko
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 February 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199830060-0195


As an emerging and evolving discipline, viral ecology has yet to be as thoroughly defined as other fields of ecology. This remains an ambitious task since viruses are able to infect all domains of life, creating many possibilities for interactions between hosts, viruses, and their physical surroundings. Understanding archaeal and bacterial viruses has been important for developing fundamental principles in molecular ecology, for example determining how bacteriophages influence bacterial genetics through introducing foreign DNA via transduction. However, much recent interest in viral ecology has been in regards to the viruses of eukaryotes, especially in relation to emerging infectious diseases. As zoonotic viruses such as ebolaviruses or influenza viruses infect new species, including humans, more research studies seek to uncover the complex ecologies of zoonotic viruses. This annotated bibliography focuses on the ecology of emerging zoonotic viruses to highlight specific principles in viral ecology. Examining the ecologies of zoonotic viruses allows virus ecologists to study the interactions of viruses with their environment, between their hosts, and molecularly within their hosts. This work was supported by the Intramural Research Program of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health.

General Overviews

While the topic of viral ecology is extensive, Hurst 2000 broadly summarizes viral ecology in bacteria, archaea, and eukaryotes. Another book, Weitz 2016, highlights the quantitative methods and theory used in multiple aspects of viral ecology. Many other resources approach viral ecology from the perspective of zoonotic viruses. This is in part due to the fact that emerging zoonotic viruses significantly contribute to human diseases, as shown by Jones, et al. 2008. While recent efforts in viral ecology have focused on identifying “the next big one,” the next virus to emerge and cause an epidemic or pandemic, such as Ebola virus or HIV, research, such as Drosten 2013, have recognized that there is a gap between virus surveillance (identifying new viruses and hosts) and prediction. Understanding viral ecology can help fill this gap. While the ecologies of many viruses have been studied, Lloyd-Smith, et al. 2011 noted that there are a few viruses such as rabies virus and influenza A virus that have been studied more than others. Due to recent identification of bats as the reservoir hosts for emerging viruses with high outbreak potential such as: Ebola virus, Marburg virus, severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV), Nipah virus, and Hendra virus, the interest in the ecology of bat-borne viruses has increased tremendously. Multiple hypotheses about how bats are able to maintain and transmit viruses have been recently developed, as reviewed by Plowright, et al. 2015, and much remains to be discovered in this topic of viral ecology, as discussed by Hayman, et al. 2012. Thus studying the ecology of viruses in bats, primates, rodents, and other animals that spill over into humans and domestic species reveals principles in viral ecology and areas for future research.

  • Drosten, C. 2013. Virus ecology: A gap between detection and prediction. Emerging Microbes & Infections 2.5: e31.

    DOI: 10.1038/emi.2013.25E-mail Citation »

    This review summarizes key principles in viral ecology and identifies gaps in the discipline, specifically moving beyond identifying new viruses and reservoirs to understanding fundamental properties of viral ecology to enable prediction.

  • Hayman, D. T. S., R. A. Bowen, P. M. Cryan, et al. 2012. Ecology of zoonotic infectious diseases in bats: Current knowledge and future directions. Zoonoses and Public Health 1–20.

    DOI: 10.1111/zph.12000E-mail Citation »

    This review summarizes both the pathogen and host ecology of viruses in bats, identifying key principles in infection dynamics.

  • Hurst, C. J., ed. 2000. Viral ecology. San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

    E-mail Citation »

    This is one of the few books on the subject of viral ecology, covering how viruses interact with most forms of life.

  • Jones, K. E., N. G. Patel, M. A. Levy, et al. 2008. Global trends in emerging infectious diseases. Nature 451.7181: 990–993.

    DOI: 10.1038/nature06536E-mail Citation »

    An influential analysis that has been cited over twenty-four hundred times and is well known for estimating that approximately two-thirds of all emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic, many of which are viral diseases.

  • Lloyd-Smith, J. O., D. George, K. M. Pepin, et al. 2011. Epidemic dynamics at the human-animal interface. Science 362.2009: 1362–1367.

    DOI: 10.1126/science.1177345E-mail Citation »

    A review of trends in modeling pathogens (especially viruses) and their ecological dynamics. It highlights the need for studying the complex life cycles and host-pathogen interactions of emerging viruses.

  • Plowright, R. K., P. Eby, P. J. Hudson, et al. 2015. Ecological dynamics of emerging bat virus spillover. Proceedings. Biological Sciences/The Royal Society 282.1798: 2014–2124.

    DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2014.2124E-mail Citation »

    A review of the temporal and spatial ecology of viral spillover from bats, using Hendra virus as an example.

  • Weitz, J. S. 2016. Quantitative viral ecology: Dynamics of viruses and their microbial hosts. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1515/9781400873968E-mail Citation »

    This book contains theoretical principles of viral ecology as well as methods used for modeling the ecological dynamics of viruses.

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