Reconciling Phylodynamics with Epidemiology: The Case of Dengue Virus in Southern Vietnam
RNA viruses account for numerous emerging and perennial infectious diseases, and are characterized by rapid rates of molecular evolution. The ecological dynamics of most emerging RNA viruses are still poorly understood and difficult to ascertain. The availability of genome sequence data for many RNA viruses, in principle, could be used to infer ecological dynamics if changes in population numbers produced a lasting signature within the pattern of genome evolution. As a result, the rapidly emerging phylogeographic structure of a pathogen, shaped by the rise and fall in the number of infections and their spatial distribution, could be used as a surrogate for direct ecological assessments. Based on rabies virus as our example, we use a model combining ecological and evolutionary processes to test whether variation in the rate of host movement results in predictive diagnostic patterns of pathogen genetic structure. We identify several linearizable relationships between host dispersal rate and measures of phylogenetic structure suggesting genetic information can be used to directly infer ecological process. We also find phylogenetic structure may be more revealing than demography for certain ecological processes. Our approach extends the reach of current analytic frameworks for infectious disease dynamics by linking phylogeography back to underlying ecological processes.