A Predator-Prey Model of Poverty Traps, New Paper from Ngonghala

Calistus Ngonghala (Mathematical Biology, Univ. of Florida) returned to NIMBioS last month for a short-term visit to collaborate with Olivia Prosper (Mathematics, Univ. of Kentucky). Ngonghala’s paper on poverty traps was recently published in Nature Ecology & Evolution.

Former NIMBioS postdoc Calistus Ngonghala has published a new paper that draws on economic, ecological and epidemiological models to examine the underlying drivers of rural poverty.

“General ecological models for human subsistence, heath and poverty,” published this month in Nature Ecology & Evolution, combine an economic model of growth accumulation with epidemiological and population ecological models. The authors show that the dynamics of poverty can be framed as predator-prey relationships, and that feedbacks between the biological and economic systems in this ecological-economic food web can lead to a state of persistent poverty.

The study finds that disease transmission and recovery rates are the most “consistently important” in determining long-term health and wealth dynamics. The findings are consistent with other studies that show improving health systems promotes economic growth and alleviates poverty.

The study was highlighted in the journal’s “News & Views” section in a commentary by Chris Desmond entitled, “The ecology of rural poverty.”

A NIMBioS postdoc from 2011-2013, Ngonghala is now an assistant professor of mathematical biology at the University of Florida.

In a press review for the paper, Ngonghala recounts his personal experiences of rural poverty growing up in Cameroon Africa that have inspired his research pursuits. “My family and friends had subsistence lifestyles, and my community suffered from a continuous burden of deadly diseases, such as malaria and HIV. These kinds of models are an essential step towards understanding persistent poverty and finding solutions for long-term sustainable development,” Ngonghala writes.

In a 2013 profile of Ngonghala in Scientific American, he elaborates on his childhood experiences and the reasons why he became a mathematician. The profile was one of series of profiles of mathematicians and computer scientists invited to participate in the 2013 Heidelberg Laureate Forum.

Ngonghala returned to NIMBioS last month on a short-term research visit to collaborate with Olivia Prosper, an assistant professor of mathematics at the University of Kentucky. The research evaluates the impact of human movement on the success of bednet programs for malaria control.

We always look forward to visits from former postdocs. Congratulations Calistus!

Citation: Ngonghala CN et al. 2017. General ecological models for human subsistence, heath and poverty. Nature Ecology & Evolution. DOI: 10.1038/s41559-017-0221-8.

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