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: Researchers discover new mechanism of DNA repair

Related Stories

Why we still collect butterflies

Jun 11, 2015

Who doesn't love butterflies? While most people won't think twice about destroying a wasp nest on the side of the house, spraying a swarm of ants in the driveway, or zapping pesky flies at an outdoor barbecue, ...

Insect's wings key to azalea pollination

Jun 09, 2015

A researcher from North Carolina State University has found that in the case of the flame azalea (Rhododendron calendulaceum), all pollinators are not created equal. In fact, due to the flower's unique reproductive ...

Recommended for you

Researchers discover new mechanism of DNA repair

Jul 03, 2015

The DNA molecule is chemically unstable giving rise to DNA lesions of different nature. That is why DNA damage detection, signaling and repair, collectively known as the DNA damage response, are needed.

The math of shark skin

Jul 03, 2015

"Sharks are almost perfectly evolved animals. We can learn a lot from studying them," says Emory mathematician Alessandro Veneziani.

Cuban, US scientists bond over big sharks

Jul 03, 2015

Somewhere in the North Atlantic right now, a longfin mako shark—a cousin of the storied great white—is cruising around, oblivious to the yellow satellite tag on its dorsal fin.

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.