Food Webs and Disease: Is Pathogen Diversity Limited by Vector Diversity?
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- Cumming, G.S. & Guégan, JF. EcoHealth (2006) 3: 163. doi:10.1007/s10393-006-0028-6
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Classical predator–prey and host–parasite systems have been extensively studied in a food web context. Less attention has been paid to communities that include pathogens and their vectors. We present a coarse-grained, pan-African analysis of the relationships between the abiotic environment (location, precipitation, temperature), the species richness and community composition of ixodid ticks, and the species richness and community composition of pathogens that ticks transmit to humans. We found strong correlations between the abiotic environment and tick species richness, and a weak but significant correlation between the abiotic environment and pathogen species richness. A substantial amount of variation in community composition of parasites and pathogens was not explained by the variables that we considered. A structural equation model that compensated for the indirect effects of climate on the pathogen community via tick community composition suggested that while the environment strongly regulates tick community composition and tick community composition strongly regulates pathogen community composition, abiotic influences on pathogen species richness and community composition are weak. Our results support the view that changes in the broader environment will influence tick-borne pathogens primarily via the influence of the environment on ticks. The interactions that regulate host–vector–pathogen dynamics are of particular relevance in understanding the relationships between environmental change and health concerns, such as the impact of climate change on the occurrence of vector-borne diseases.