Fomite Transmission Follows Invasion Ecology Principles

Peihua Wang, Xinzhao Tong, Nan Zhang, Te Miao, Jack P.T. Chan, Hong Huang, Patrick K.H. Lee*, Yuguo Li*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


The invasion ecology principles illustrated in many ecosystems have not yet been explored in the context of fomite transmission. We hypothesized that invaders in fomite transmission are trackable, are neutrally distributed between hands and environmental surfaces, and exhibit a proximity effect. To test this hypothesis, a surrogate invader, Lactobacillus delbrueckii subsp. bulgaricus, was spread by a root carrier in an office housing more than 20 participants undertaking normal activities, and the microbiotas on skin and environmental surfaces were analyzed before and after invasion. First, we found that the invader was trackable. Its identity and emission source could be determined using microbial-interaction networks, and the root carrier could be identified using a rank analysis. Without prior information, L. bulgaricus could be identified as the invader emitted from a source that exclusively contained the invader, and the probable root carrier could be located. In addition to the single-taxon invasion by L. bulgaricus, multiple-taxon invasion was observed, as genera from sputum/saliva exhibited co-occurrence relationships on skin and environmental surfaces. Second, the invader had a below-neutral distribution in a neutral community model, suggesting that hands accrued heavier invader contamination than environmental surfaces. Third, a proximity effect was observed on a surface touch network. Invader contamination on surfaces decreased with increasing geodesic distance from the hands of the carrier, indicating that the carrier’s touching behaviors were the main driver of fomite transmission. Taken together, these results demonstrate the invasion ecology principles in fomite transmission and provide a general basis for the management of ecological fomite transmission.

Original languageEnglish
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • built environment
  • disease transmission
  • invasive species
  • microbial interaction
  • surface ecosystem
  • surface hygiene


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