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Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Infectious Diseases
Volume 2011, Article ID 238743, 9 pages
Research Article

Contact Heterogeneity and Phylodynamics: How Contact Networks Shape Parasite Evolutionary Trees

1Section of Integrative Biology, The University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX 78712, USA
2Center for Computational Biology and Bioinformatics, The University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX 78712, USA
3Institute for Cellular and Molecular Biology, The University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX 78712, USA

Received 4 June 2010; Accepted 15 October 2010

Academic Editor: Katia Koelle

Copyright © 2011 Eamon B. O'Dea and Claus O. Wilke. 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.


The inference of population dynamics from molecular sequence data is becoming an important new method for the surveillance of infectious diseases. Here, we examine how heterogeneity in contact shapes the genealogies of parasitic agents. Using extensive simulations, we find that contact heterogeneity can have a strong effect on how the structure of genealogies reflects epidemiologically relevant quantities such as the proportion of a population that is infected. Comparing the simulations to BEAST reconstructions, we also find that contact heterogeneity can increase the number of sequence isolates required to estimate these quantities over the course of an epidemic. Our results suggest that data about contact-network structure will be required in addition to sequence data for accurate estimation of a parasitic agent's genealogy. We conclude that network models will be important for progress in this area.