PLoS ONE, 2018, Vol.13(3)
An agent-based computer model that builds representative regional U.S. hog production networks was developed and employed to assess the potential impact of the ongoing trend towards increased producer specialization upon network-level resilience to catastrophic disease outbreaks. Empirical analyses suggest that the spatial distribution and connectivity patterns of contact networks often predict epidemic spreading dynamics. Our model heuristically generates realistic systems composed of hog producer, feed mill, and slaughter plant agents. Network edges are added during each run as agents exchange livestock and feed. The heuristics governing agents’ contact patterns account for factors including their industry roles, physical proximities, and the age of their livestock. In each run, an infection is introduced, and may spread according to probabilities associated with the various modes of contact. For each of three treatments—defined by one-phase, two-phase, and three-phase production systems—a parameter variation experiment examines the impact of the spatial density of producer agents in the system upon the length and size of disease outbreaks. Resulting data show phase transitions whereby, above some density threshold, systemic outbreaks become possible, echoing findings from percolation theory. Data analysis reveals that multi-phase production systems are vulnerable to catastrophic outbreaks at lower spatial densities, have more abrupt percolation transitions, and are characterized by less-predictable outbreak scales and durations. Key differences in network-level metrics shed light on these results, suggesting that the absence of potentially-bridging producer–producer edges may be largely responsible for the superior disease resilience of single-phase “farrow to finish” production systems.
Research Article ; Medicine And Health Sciences ; Medicine And Health Sciences ; Physical Sciences ; Medicine And Health Sciences ; Biology And Life Sciences ; Biology And Life Sciences ; Biology And Life Sciences ; Research And Analysis Methods ; Computer And Information Sciences ; Physical Sciences ; Biology And Life Sciences