Cornell, S.J., Bjornstad, O.N., Cattadori, I.M., Boag, B. and Hudson, P.J. 2008. Seasonality, cohort-dependence and the development of immunity in a natural host-nematode system.

Proceedings of the Royal Society of London Series B 275: 511-518.


Acquired immunity is known to be a key modulator of the dynamics of many helminth parasites in domestic and human host populations, but its relative importance in natural populations is more controversial. A detailed long-term data set on the gastrointestinal nematode Trichostrongylus retortaeformis in a wild population of European rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) shows clear evidence of seasonal acquired immunity in the age-structured infection profiles. By fitting a hierarchy of demographic infection-immunity models to the observed age-structured infection patterns we are able to quantify the importance of different components (seasonality, immunity, host age structure) of the parasite dynamics. We find strong evidence that the hosts' immunocompetence waxes and wanes with the seasons, but also contains a lifelong cohort factor, possibly acting through a maternal effect dependent on the host's month of birth. These observations have important and broad implications for the ecology of parasite infection in seasonal natural herbivore systems.

Keywords: parasite, seasonality, acquired immunity, mathematical modelling, Trichostrongylus retortaeformis, Oryctolagus cuniculus