Land-use change is the main force behind ecological and social change in many countries around the globe; it is primarily driven by resource needs and external economic incentives. Concomitantly, transformations of the land are the main drivers for the emergence and re-emergence of malaria. An understanding of malaria population dynamics in transforming landscapes is lacking, despite its relevance for developmental and public health policies. We develop a mathematical model that couples malaria epidemiology with the socio-economic and demographic processes that occur in a landscape undergoing land-use change. This allows us to identify different types of malaria dynamics that can arise in early stages of this transformation. In particular, we show that an increase in transmission followed by either a decline, or a further enhancement, of risk is a common outcome. This increase results from the asymmetry between the relatively fast ecological changes in transformed landscapes, and the slower pace of investment in malaria protection. These results underscore the importance of reducing ecological risk, while providing services and economic opportunities to early migrants for longer periods. Consideration of these socio-ecological processes and, more importantly, the temporal scale on which they act, is critical to avoid potential bifurcations that lead to long-lasting endemic malaria.
Read the article in Nature Ecology & Evolution.