Spread of plant diseases by insects can be described by equations that model interplanetary gravity

Sep 01, 2006

Researchers from Penn State University and the University of Virginia show that the spread of diseases by insects can be described by equations similar to those that describe the force of gravity between planetary objects. Their findings are detailed in the September issue of The American Naturalist.

Insects tend to transmit diseases in the course of feeding on plants, and their movement between plants is influenced by plant quality (how good of a meal they'll get) and the distance between plants, or, how far they'll have to travel to get to the next meal, explain Matthew Ferrari, Jessica Partain, Janis Antonovics, and Ottar Bjornstad.

"It turns out insects are more likely to move shorter distances between better plants," write the authors. "Interestingly, then, the probability of disease being passed between two plants goes up if they are closer and/or better, which parallels the stronger gravity between closer and larger planets."

The researchers tracked a fungal disease spread by bees and moths in the course of pollinating and feeding on nectar from white campion flowers at the University of Virginia's Mountain Lake Biological Station. As predicted by the behaviour of insects, the disease was more likely to spread shorter distances between plants that had many flowers.

"This implies that knowledge of insect behaviour can lead to better prediction of where disease will spread," explain the authors. In fact, these patterns are not limited to diseases of plants or diseases carried by insects. Bjornstad and colleagues have previously shown that similar patterns describe the spread of measles among cities, because people tend to travel more between large towns or only short distances.

Source: University of Chicago

Explore further: Mass deaths of rare Kazakhstan antelopes stir conservation fears

Related Stories

Serengeti Park disappearing

May 22, 2015

A huge wildebeest herd migrates across the open, parched plains. Dust swirls up from the many hooves pounding the ground, and forms a haze over the landscape. The setting sun gives the scene a golden tinge.

Oldest-known stone tools pre-date Homo

May 20, 2015

Scientists working in the desert badlands of northwestern Kenya have found stone tools dating back 3.3 million years, long before the advent of modern humans, and by far the oldest such artifacts yet discovered. ...

Drone used to drop beneficial bugs on corn crop

Apr 20, 2015

University of Queensland agricultural science student Michael Godfrey has developed a drone that spreads beneficial insects onto crops, potentially saving farmers time and money.

Recommended for you

Insect mating behavior has lessons for drones

May 29, 2015

Male moths locate females by navigating along the latter's pheromone (odor) plume, often flying hundreds of meters to do so. Two strategies are involved to accomplish this: males must find the outer envelope ...

Bacterial tenants in fungal quarters

May 29, 2015

Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich researchers have sequenced the genome of a bacterial symbiont hosted by a mycorrhizal fungus. Analysis of the symbiont's genetic endowment reveals previously unknown ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.