EEB graduate students Kevin Bakker and Micaela Martinez-Bakker’s paper was selected as EEB’s Outstanding Paper of the Year for 2013-2014. Published April 1, 2014 in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, the paper is titled " Human birth seasonality: latitudinal gradient and interplay with childhood disease dynamics."

The husband-and-wife research team studies how birth seasonality – the variation in the timing and strength of birth pulses throughout the year – can shape outbreaks of childhood infectious diseases. Coauthors are their advisor Professor Pej Rohani and Professor Aaron King.

The researchers digitized 78 years of monthly birth records from every U.S. state and obtained more than 200 data sets from countries across the Northern Hemisphere, then fed the information into a disease transmission model for measles to examine the implications of birth seasonality on childhood infections. Their dataset includes information about 730 million births. They describe their demographic data set as "the most extensive spatiotemporal data set on human births to date."

They found that the timing and magnitude of seasonal birth pulses could significantly alter the size of a measles epidemic. By taking into account seasonal fluctuations in birth rates, massive vaccination campaigns in the developing world could inoculate more unprotected infants and significantly reduce the number of deaths from diseases like measles, according to Bakker and Martinez-Bakker.

Joseph Coolon, assistant research scientist, and postdoctoral fellow Huateng Huang were the reviewers. “We chose this paper as the winner for three primary reasons,” they wrote. “The paper is well written and engaging; it asks an interesting question with a comprehensive and well-constructed dataset;  and the finding has real-world, practical applications.

“While there were some close competitors, we believe that this paper stood out as the best overall.” In addition to the honor, the authors receive $500.

Read more in previous EEB web news.