An ecohydrological model of malaria outbreaks
Abstract. Malaria is a geographically widespread infectious disease that is well known to be affected by climate variability at both seasonal and interannual timescales. In an effort to identify climatic factors that impact malaria dynamics, there has been considerable research focused on the development of appropriate disease models for malaria transmission driven by climatic time series. These analyses have focused largely on variation in temperature and rainfall as direct climatic drivers of malaria dynamics. Here, we further these efforts by considering additionally the role that soil water content may play in driving malaria incidence. Specifically, we hypothesize that hydro-climatic variability should be an important factor in controlling the availability of mosquito habitats, thereby governing mosquito growth rates. To test this hypothesis, we reduce a nonlinear ecohydrological model to a simple linear model through a series of consecutive assumptions and apply this model to malaria incidence data from three South African provinces. Despite the assumptions made in the reduction of the model, we show that soil water content can account for a significant portion of malaria's case variability beyond its seasonal patterns, whereas neither temperature nor rainfall alone can do so. Future work should therefore consider soil water content as a simple and computable variable for incorporation into climate-driven disease models of malaria and other vector-borne infectious diseases.