Redefining the Australian Anthrax Belt: Modeling the Ecological Niche and Predicting the Geographic Distribution of Bacillus anthracis
Alassane S. Barro, Mark Fegan , Barbara Moloney, Kelly Porter, Janine Muller, Simone Warner, Jason K. Blackburn
Article first published online: 09 JUN 2016 PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases
ABSTRACT: The ecology and distribution of B. anthracis in Australia is not well understood, despite the continued occurrence of anthrax outbreaks in the eastern states of the country. Efforts to estimate the spatial extent of the risk of disease have been limited to a qualitative definition of an anthrax belt extending from southeast Queensland through the centre of New South Wales and into northern Victoria. This definition of the anthrax belt does not consider the role of environmental conditions in the distribution of B. anthracis. Here, we used the genetic algorithm for rule-set prediction model system (GARP), historical anthrax outbreaks and environmental data to model the ecological niche of B. anthracis and predict its potential geographic distribution in Australia. Our models reveal the niche of B. anthracis in Australia is characterized by a narrow range of ecological conditions concentrated in two disjunct corridors. The most dominant corridor, used to redefine a new anthrax belt, parallels the Eastern Highlands and runs from north Victoria to central east Queensland through the centre of New South Wales. This study has redefined the anthrax belt in eastern Australia and provides insights about the ecological factors that limit the distribution of B. anthracis at the continental scale for Australia. The geographic distributions identified can help inform anthrax surveillance strategies by public and veterinary health agencies.
Read the full publication at PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases