, Volume 167, Issue 3, pp 635-646
Date: 24 May 2011

Population density and phenotypic attributes influence the level of nematode parasitism in roe deer

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The impact of parasites on population dynamics is well documented, but less is known on how host population density affects parasite spread. This relationship is difficult to assess because of confounding effects of social structure, population density, and environmental conditions that lead to biased among-population comparisons. Here, we analyzed the infestation by two groups of nematodes (gastro-intestinal (GI) strongyles and Trichuris) in the roe deer (Capreolus capreolus) population of Trois Fontaines (France) between 1997 and 2007. During this period, we experimentally manipulated population density through changes in removals. Using measures collected on 297 individuals, we quantified the impact of density on parasite spread after taking into account possible influences of date, age, sex, body mass, and weather conditions. The prevalence and abundance of eggs of both parasites in females were positively related to roe deer density, except Trichuris in adult females. We also found a negative relationship between parasitism and body mass, and strong age and sex-dependent patterns of parasitism. Prime-age adults were less often parasitized and had lower fecal egg counts than fawns or old individuals, and males were more heavily and more often infected than females. Trichuris parasites were not affected by weather, whereas GI strongyles were less present after dry and hot summers. In the range of observed densities, the observed effect of density likely involves a variation of the exposure rate, as opposed to variation in host susceptibility.

Communicated by Herwig Leirs.