Can parasites drive population cycles in mountain hares?

Townsend, S.E., Newey, S., Thirgood, S.J., Matthews, L. and Haydon, D.T. (2009) Can parasites drive population cycles in mountain hares? Proceedings of the Royal Society of London Series B: Biological Sciences, 276(1662), pp. 1611-1617. (doi:10.1098/rspb.2008.1669)

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Publisher's URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2008.1669

Abstract

Understanding the drivers of population fluctuations is a central goal of ecology. Although well-established theory suggests that parasites can drive cyclic population fluctuations in their hosts, field evidence is lacking. Theory predicts that a parasite that loosely aggregates in the host population and has stronger impact on host fecundity than survival should induce cycling. The helminth <i>Trichostrongylus retortaeformis</i> in the UK's only native lagomorph, the mountain hare, has exactly these properties, and the hares exhibit strong population fluctuations. Here we use a host-parasite model parametrized using the available empirical data to test this superficial concordance between theory and observation. In fact, through an innovative combination of sensitivity and stability analyses, we show that hare population cycles do not seem to be driven by the parasite. Potential limitations in our parametrization and model formulation, together with the possible secondary roles for parasites in determining hare demography, are discussed. Improving our knowledge of leveret biology and the quantification of harvesting emerge as future research priorities. With the growing concern over the present management of mountain hares for disease control in Scotland, understanding their population drivers is an important prerequisite for the effective management of this species

Item Type:Articles
Keywords:ecosystem dynamics, parasite reduction experiments, population dynamics, moorland management, Lepus timidus
Status:Published
Refereed:Yes
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Haydon, Professor Daniel and Matthews, Professor Louise and Townsend, Dr Sunny
Authors: Townsend, S.E., Newey, S., Thirgood, S.J., Matthews, L., and Haydon, D.T.
Subjects:Q Science > QL Zoology
Q Science > QH Natural history
College/School:College of Medical Veterinary and Life Sciences > Institute of Biodiversity Animal Health and Comparative Medicine
College of Medical Veterinary and Life Sciences > Institute of Infection Immunity and Inflammation
Journal Name:Proceedings of the Royal Society of London Series B: Biological Sciences
ISSN:0962-8452
ISSN (Online):1471-2954
Published Online:20 January 2009

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