Bacterial resistance to antibiotics continues to pose a serious threat to human and animal health. Given the considerable spatial and temporal heterogeneity in the distribution of resistance and the factors that affect its evolution, dissemination and persistence, we argue that antibiotic resistance must be viewed as an ecological problem. A fundamental difficulty in assessing the causal relationship between antibiotic use and resistance is the confounding influence of geography: the co-localization of resistant bacterial species with antibiotic use does not necessarily imply causation and could represent the presence of environmental conditions and factors that have independently contributed to the occurrence of resistance. Here, we show how landscape ecology, which links the biotic and abiotic factors of an ecosystem, might help to untangle the complexity of antibiotic resistance and improve the interpretation of ecological studies.
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We thank Tim Boyer, Janet Anderson and the reviewers for many helpful suggestions in improving the manuscript. We also thank Jeffrey Bender for supplying the Minnesota STEC dataset that was used in this manuscript. R.S.S. was partially supported by a United States Department of Agriculture National Research Initiative Competitive Grant.
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