Influence of contact heterogeneity on TB reproduction ratio R0 in a free-living brushtail possum Trichosurus vulpecula population

T. Porphyre*, M. Stevenson, R. Jackson, J. McKenzie

*Corresponding author for this work

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Social network analyses were used to investigate contact patterns in a free-living possum Trichosurus vulpecula population and to estimate the influence of contact on R0 for bovine tuberculosis (TB). Using data collected during a five-year capture-mark-recapture study of a free-living possum population, observed estimates of R0 were computed and compared with R0 computed from random networks of similar size that approximated a random mixing process. All networks displayed a heterogeneous pattern of contact with the average number of contacts per possum ranging from 20 to 26 per year. The networks consistently showed small-world and single-scale features. The mean estimates of R0 for TB using the observed contact networks were 1.78, 1.53, 1.53, 1.51, and 1.52 times greater than the corresponding random networks (P < 0.05). We estimate that TB would spread if an average of between 1.94 and 1.97 infective contacts occurred per year, which is approximately half of that expected from a random network. These results have implications for the management of TB in New Zealand where the possum is the principal wildlife reservoir host of Mycobacterium bovis, the causal agent of bovine TB. This study argues the relevance of refining epidemiological models used to inform disease management policy to account for contact heterogeneity.

Original languageEnglish
Article number31
JournalVeterinary Research
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 15 Feb 2008


  • Basic reproduction ratio
  • Mycobacterium bovis
  • Small-world
  • Social network analysis
  • Wildlife disease


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