Infectious Disease, Endangerment, and Extinction
Ross D. E. MacPhee1 and Alex D. Greenwood2
1 Vertebrate Zoology, American Museum of Natural History, Central Park West at 79th Street, New York, NY 10024, USA
2 Leibniz-Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research, Department of Wildlife Diseases, Alfred-Kowalke-Straße 30, 10315 Berlin, Germany
Correspondence should be addressed to Alex D. Greenwood;
Infectious disease, especially virulent infectious disease, is commonly regarded as a cause of fluctuation or decline in biological populations. However, it is not generally considered as a primary factor in causing the actual endangerment or extinction of species. We review here the known historical examples in which disease has, or has been assumed to have had, a major deleterious impact on animal species, including extinction, and highlight some recent cases in which disease is the chief suspect in causing the outright endangerment of particular species. We conclude that the role of disease in historical extinctions at the population or species level may have been underestimated. Recent methodological breakthroughs may lead to a better understanding of the past and present roles of infectious disease in influencing population fitness and other parameters.