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The importance of parasite life history and host density in predicting the impact of infections in red deer


We studied a macroparasite (Elaphostrongylus cervi, Nematoda) and a microparasite infection (tuberculosis, TB) in red deer (Cervus elaphus) across different populations where managers manipulated host condition, density and aggregation by providing supplemental food. We aimed to test whether and, if so, how persistence and transmission of both parasites differentially varied as host body condition and population density varied. We took account of sex, as red deer life history greatly concerns sex-related traits. Changes in host factors had different consequences for the spread of each parasite type. Individual presence of tuberculosis was positively associated with host density, whereas E. cervi abundance negatively related to host density and enhanced body condition. There was lack of body condition density dependence; and body condition was mainly dependent on the amount of supplemental food provided, but also on habitat quality descriptors. Overall, our results suggest that body condition was improved at the cost of increased host contact rates, which implied an ecological trade-off between acquiring resources to cope with E. cervi, a macroparasite, and concurrent exposure to mycobacteria. By the simultaneous study of both infections, this research suggests that the effects of changes in host number and population structure on disease spread and persistence need to take into account variation in life histories of the parasites. These findings also raise concern about the ecological consequences of diseases and management of wildlife on host life history.

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This study was supported by MEC and FEDER-EU proyect AGL2005-07401. J. Vicente had a grant from JCCM. This is also a contribution to the agreement between FG-UCLM and Grupo Santander, to the agreement between Yolanda Fierro and UCLM, and to project INIA RTA03-074-C2, MEC.

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Correspondence to Joaquín Vicente.

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Communicated by Jean-Michel Gaillard.

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Vicente, J., Höfle, U., Fernández-De-Mera, I.G. et al. The importance of parasite life history and host density in predicting the impact of infections in red deer. Oecologia 152, 655–664 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-007-0690-6

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  • Life history
  • Trade-off
  • Sex-related differences
  • Tuberculosis
  • Wildlife disease