Process models that focus on explicitly representing biological mechanisms are increasingly important in disease ecology and animal health research. However, the large number of process modelling approaches makes it difficult to decide which is most appropriate for a given disease system and research question. Here, we discuss different motivations for using process models and present an integrated conceptual analysis that can be used to guide the construction of infectious disease process models and comparisons between them. Our presentation complements existing work by clarifying the major differences between modelling approaches and their relationship with the biological characteristics of the epidemiological system. We first discuss distinct motivations for using process models in epidemiological research, identifying the key steps in model design and use associated with each. We then present a conceptual framework for guiding model construction and comparison, organised according to key aspects of epidemiological systems. Specifically, we discuss the number and type of disease states, whether to focus on individual hosts (e.g., cows) or groups of hosts (e.g., herds or farms), how space or host connectivity affect disease transmission, whether demographic and epidemiological processes are periodic or can occur at any time, and the extent to which stochasticity is important. We use foot-and-mouth disease and bovine tuberculosis in cattle to illustrate our discussion and support explanations of cases in which different models are used to address similar problems. The framework should help those constructing models to structure their approach to modelling decisions and facilitate comparisons between models in the literature.
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