The role that host aggregation plays in structuring parasite assemblages was examined by experimentally increasing the contact rates of raccoons, Procyon lotor. Two populations of raccoons in southern New York were monitored for 2 years to determine baseline levels of host interaction and to identify the parasite assemblage. In the third year of the study, one population was provisioned with the addition of clumped food resources, while the other was provisioned with equal quantities of dispersed food resources. Remote photography showed that raccoons aggregated at clumped resources but not at dispersed resources, and therefore contact rates between individuals were higher in the site with clumped resources. There were no differences in parasitism between the sites prior to resource augmentation. Among ectoparasites, there were no significant changes in the prevalence or abundance of any species in response to the perturbation. In contrast, across the endoparasite assemblage within and across hosts, the prevalence of infection increased as a result of increased host contact. Strong increases in the prevalence of a few directly transmitted species and slight increases among most species lead to increased evenness in parasite prevalence, suggesting that parasites in this system are transmission limited. In addition, the number of parasite species per host (the parasite infracommunity) was higher in the clumped-resource population. These endoparasite results suggest that intraspecific variation in the species richness of parasite communities of individual hosts, and the prevalence of parasitic species in host populations as assessed across entire parasitic assemblages, is robustly influenced by intraspecific variation in the degree of host contact. Further, these results suggest that anthropogenic changes which alter resource availability may have important consequences for disease transmission in wildlife.
Community structure Resource manipulation Contact rates Disease transmission Baylisascaris procyonis