Predicting the vulnerability of great apes to disease: the role of superspreaders and their potential vaccination

Charlotte Carne*, Stuart Semple, Helen Morrogh-Bernard, Klaus Zuberbuehler, Julia Lehmann

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)
4 Downloads (Pure)


Disease is a major concern for the conservation of great apes, and one that is likely to become increasingly relevant as deforestation and the rise of ecotourism bring humans and apes into ever closer proximity. Consequently, it is imperative that preventative measures are explored to ensure that future epidemics do not wipe out the remaining populations of these animals. In this paper, social network analysis was used to investigate vulnerability to disease in a population of wild orang-utans and a community of wild chimpanzees. Potential 'superspreaders' of disease - individuals with disproportionately central positions in the community or population - were identified, and the efficacy of vaccinating these individuals assessed using simulations. Three resident female orang-utans were identified as potential superspreaders, and females and unflanged males were predicted to be more influential in disease spread than flanged males. By contrast, no superspreaders were identified in the chimpanzee network, although males were significantly more central than females. In both species, simulating the vaccination of the most central individuals in the network caused a greater reduction in potential disease pathways than removing random individuals, but this effect was considerably more pronounced for orang-utans. This suggests that targeted vaccinations would have a greater impact on reducing disease spread among orang-utans than chimpanzees. Overall, these results have important implications for orang-utan and chimpanzee conservation and highlight the role that certain individuals may play in the spread of disease and its prevention by vaccination.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere84642
Number of pages10
JournalPLoS One
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 27 Dec 2013


  • Social-network analysis
  • Individual variation
  • Sumatran orangutans
  • Complex networks
  • Wild chimpanzees
  • Pan-troglodytes
  • Pongo-pygmaeus
  • National-park
  • Conservation
  • Transmission


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