Biodiv Sci ›› 2020, Vol. 28 ›› Issue (5): 579-586.  DOI: 10.17520/biods.2020155

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Matters needing attention about invoking ecological niche model in epidemiology

Ran Wang1,2,Huijie Qiao1,*()   

  1. 1 Key Laboratory of Animal Ecology and Conservation Biology, Institute of Zoology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100101
    2 University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100049
  • Received:2020-04-16 Accepted:2020-05-26 Online:2020-05-20 Published:2020-06-19
  • Contact: Huijie Qiao


The outbreak of COVID-19 has spurred a number of risk assessments within the scientific community regarding its spread and intensity. A popular ecological tool, ecological niche models (ENMs) are often used in these studies, and have been used to predict potential hotspots and trends of epidemics. However, ENMs are not the best tool for predicting COVID-19 spread due to the virus’ characteristics. This article reviews the application of ENMs for various epidemiological studies in recent decades, comparing advantages and disadvantages of ENM methods for predicting disease characteristics and other models. ENMs can only be used to analyze the impact of environmental disturbances of intermediate hosts during the epidemic transmission process, but SARS-CoV-2 is more reliant on human transmission, leading to poor ENM performance. Therefore, we must choose the appropriate modeling method for the transmission pathways of the disease to accurately predict the epidemic trend. Under appropriate conditions, ENMs can analyze the spread range of epidemics but we must include other interference factors to test and evaluate ENMs accurately. Misusing ENMs would mislead decision-makers. Therefore, when applying ENMs to predict the spread of infectious diseases, the primary consideration must be whether the scientific question meets the ecological assumptions.

Key words: ecological niche model, epidemiology, disease ecology, transmission, disease model