Table of Contents
International Journal of Evolutionary Biology
Volume 2013, Article ID 571939, 9 pages
Review Article

Infectious Disease, Endangerment, and Extinction

1Vertebrate Zoology, American Museum of Natural History, Central Park West at 79th Street, New York, NY 10024, USA
2Leibniz-Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research, Department of Wildlife Diseases, Alfred-Kowalke-Straße 30, 10315 Berlin, Germany

Received 20 November 2012; Accepted 4 January 2013

Academic Editor: Stephane Boissinot

Copyright © 2013 Ross D. E. MacPhee and Alex D. Greenwood. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


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.