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Climatic similarity and biological exchange in the worldwide airline network

Investigators: Andrew Tatem and Simon Hay.

Published in: Proceedings of the Royal Society B. 274 (1617):1489–1496. (PDF version)

Financial support: UK Government’s Office of Science and Innovation

Abstract: Recent increases in the rates of biological invasion and spread of infectious diseases have been linked to the continued expansion of the worldwide airline transportation network (WAN). Here, the global structure of the WAN is analysed in terms of climatic similarity to illuminate the risk of deliberate or accidental movements of climatically sensitive organisms around the world.

From over 44,000 flight routes, we show, for each month of an average year:

  • those scheduled routes that link the most spatially distant but climatically similar airports,

  • the climatically best-connected airports, and

  • clusters of airports with similar climatic features.

The way in which traffic volumes alter these findings is also examined. Climatic similarity across the WAN is skewed (most geographically close airports are climatically similar) but heavy-tailed (there are considerable numbers of geographically distant but climatically similar airports), with climate similarity highest in the June–August period, matching the annual peak in air traffic. Climatically matched, geographically distant airports form subnetworks within the WAN that change throughout the year. Further, the incorporation of passenger and freight traffic data highlight at greater risk of invasion those airports that are climatically well connected by numerous high capacity routes.


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Subnetworks (encompassing more than 10 airports or more than three countries) within the Climatic Euclidean Distance-weighted WAN for January (airports with the same colour and style of icon represent a subnetwork). (click the image for an enlarged version)



[ Last updated: May 3, 2010 ]


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