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Parasite infection and host dynamics in a naturally fluctuating rodent population

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Parasites can both influence and be affected by host population dynamics, and a growing number of case studies support a role for parasites in causing or amplifying host population cycles. In this study, we examined individual and population predictors of gastrointestinal parasitism on wild cyclic montane voles (Microtus montanus (Peale, 1848)) to determine if evidence was consistent with theory implicating parasites in population cycles. We sampled three sites in central Colorado for the duration of a multiannual cycle and recorded the prevalence and intensity of directly transmitted Eimeria Schneider, 1875 and indirectly transmitted cestodes from a total of 267 voles. We found significant associations between host infection status, individual traits (sex, age, and reproductive status) and population variables (site, trapping period, and population density), including a positive association between host density and cestode prevalence, and a negative association between host density and Eimeria prevalence. Both cestode and Eimeria intensity correlated positively with host age, reproductive status, and population density, but neither parasite was associated with poorer host condition. Our findings suggest that parasites are common in this natural host, but determining their potential to influence montane vole cycles requires future experimental studies and long-term monitoring to determine the fitness consequences of infection and the impact of parasite removal on host dynamics.

Keywords: Eimeria; Microtus montanus; campagnol montagnard; cycles de population; helminthes; helminths; montane vole; parasite regulation; population cycles; régulation des parasites

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Odum School of Ecology, University of Georgia, Athens, GA 30602, USA. 2: College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Georgia, Athens, GA 30602, USA. 3: Odum School of Ecology, University of Georgia, Athens, GA 30602, USA.

Publication date: September 17, 2012

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  • Published since 1929, this monthly journal reports on primary research contributed by respected international scientists in the broad field of zoology, including behaviour, biochemistry and physiology, developmental biology, ecology, genetics, morphology and ultrastructure, parasitology and pathology, and systematics and evolution. It also invites experts to submit review articles on topics of current interest.
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