I.M. Cattadori, B. Boag, O.N. Bjørnstad, S.J. Cornell & P.J. Hudson: Peak shift and epidemiology in a seasonal host-nematode system

Proceedings of the Royal Society B (2005) 272: 1163-1169.


Insight into the dynamics of parasite-host relationships of higher vertebrates requires an understanding of two important features: the nature of transmission and the development of acquired immunity in the host. A dominant hypothesis proposes that acquired immunity develops with the cumulative exposure to infection, and consequently predicts a negative relationship between peak intensity of infection and host age at this peak. Although previous studies have found evidence to support this hypothesis through between-population comparisons, these results are confounded by spatial effects. In this study, we examined the dynamics of infection of the nematode Trichostrongylus retortaeformis within a natural population of rabbits sampled monthly for 26 years. The rabbit age structure was reconstructed using body mass as a proxy for age, and the host age-parasite intensity relationship was examined for each rabbit cohort born from February to August. The age-intensity curves exhibited a typical concave shape, and a significant negative relationship was found between peak intensity of infection and host age at this peak. Adult females showed a distinct periparturient rise in T. retortaeformis infection, with higher intensities in breeding adult females than adult males and non-breeding females. These findings are consistent with the hypothesis of an acquired immune response of the host to a parasite infection, supporting the principle that acquired immunity can be modelled using the cumulative exposure to infection. These findings also show that seasonality can be an important driver of host-parasite interactions.

Keywords: age-intensity relationship; peak shift; periparturient rise; seasonality