Integrating human behavior and snake ecology with agent-based models to predict snakebite in high risk landscapes

Eyal Goldstein*, Joseph J. Erinjery, Gerardo Martin, Anuradhani Kasturiratne, Dileepa Senajith Ediriweera, Hithanadura Janaka de Silva, Peter Diggle, David Griffith Lalloo, Kris A. Murray, Takuya Iwamura, Abdulrazaq G. Habib

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Snakebite causes more than 1.8 million envenoming cases annually and is a major cause of death in the tropics especially for poor farmers. While both social and ecological factors influence the chance encounter between snakes and people, the spatio-temporal processes underlying snakebites remain poorly explored. Previous research has heavily focused on statistical correlates between snakebites and ecological, sociological, or environmental factors, but the human and snake behavioral patterns that drive the spatio-temporal process have not yet been integrated into a single model. Here we use a bottom-up simulation approach using agent-based modelling (ABM) parameterized with datasets from Sri Lanka, a snakebite hotspot, to characterise the mechanisms of snakebite and identify risk factors. Spatio-temporal dynamics of snakebite risks are examined through the model incorporating six snake species and three farmer types (rice, tea, and rubber). We find that snakebites are mainly climatically driven, but the risks also depend on farmer types due to working schedules as well as species present in landscapes. Snake species are differentiated by both distribution and by habitat preference, and farmers are differentiated by working patterns that are climatically driven, and the combination of these factors leads to unique encounter rates for different landcover types as well as locations. Validation using epidemiological studies demonstrated that our model can explain observed patterns, including temporal patterns, and relative contribution of bites by each snake specie. Our predictions can be used to generate hypotheses and inform future studies and decision makers. Additionally, our model is transferable to other locations with high snakebite burden as well. Snakebite is a neglected tropical disease affecting millions, and a major cause of death of agricultural workers in the tropics. In this research, the authors have developed a simulation model that includes data for agricultural activity across the days and seasons, as well as snake behavioral patterns, and the times and locations humans and snakes meet. Using this model, they predicted observed seasonal snakebite patterns in Sri Lanka, and they successfully showed how these patterns vary between different agricultural activities, including seasonal rice cultivation, and rubber and tea harvests. The findings arising from this study demonstrate that different combinations of human and snake activity, including species and farming practice differences, are likely to generate differences in snakebite patterns across locations. This model could be applied to analyze and predict snakebite in tropical regions around the globe to help mitigate the problem.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0009047
Pages (from-to)1-20
Number of pages20
JournalPLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2021


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