Direct and indirect effects of fire on parasites in an African savanna

Donaldson, J. E. et al. (2023) Direct and indirect effects of fire on parasites in an African savanna. Journal of Animal Ecology, 92(12), pp. 2323-2332. (doi: 10.1111/1365-2656.14013)

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Fires in grassy ecosystems consume vegetation and initiate high‐quality regrowth, which results in pyric herbivory when mammalian grazers concentrate feeding in recent burns. For environmentally transmitted parasites with transmission mechanisms linked to vegetation structure, fire should exert direct effects on parasites, as well as indirect effects resulting from subsequent enhanced herbivory, which can affect parasite input and exposure to environmental conditions. We combined an experimental manipulation with observational data in the Serengeti National Park to investigate the direct and indirect effects of fire on parasites. We assessed the direct effects of fire by measuring changes in parasitic nematode larvae in the grass layer before and after fire on paired experimental burned and control plots. To investigate indirect effects linked to pyric herbivory, we sampled herbivore dung, grass biomass, ground temperature and larval densities every month for 5 months following fire in seven pairs of burned and unburned monitoring plots. Finally, to assess if fire‐driven changes to larval densities affected host infection burdens, we collected faecal samples from a key host, Grant's gazelle (Nanger granti), each month for 5 months to estimate within‐host parasite burdens. Fire killed all larvae and increased grazer dung inputs by 40% for 2 months following fire. Dung inputs after fire led to larval parasite recolonization of burned patches, but intense herbivory kept grass short and larval densities were associated with changes in ground temperature linked to grass biomass and ambient temperature. Grant's gazelles had lower parasite burdens when sampled in areas with higher compared to lower burned area fraction. Fire and pyric herbivory change the densities of larval parasites in the environment and divide the landscape into burned and unburned regions with distinct infection risks for local herbivores. The indirect effects quantified here represent a novel finding with major implications for all grazing systems impacted by fire.

Item Type:Articles
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Devaney, Professor Eileen and McIntyre, Dr Jennifer and Hempson, Dr Gareth and Hopcraft, Professor Grant and Morrison, Dr Thomas
Authors: Donaldson, J. E., Holdo, R. M., Anderson, T. M., Morrison, T. A., Hopcraft, J. G. C., McIntyre, J., Devaney, E., Hempson, G., Senso, B., Trentinus, A., and Ezenwa, V. O.
College/School:College of Medical Veterinary and Life Sciences > School of Biodiversity, One Health & Veterinary Medicine
Journal Name:Journal of Animal Ecology
ISSN (Online):1365-2656
Published Online:04 October 2023

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Project CodeAward NoProject NamePrincipal InvestigatorFunder's NameFunder RefLead Dept
309543Transport and trophic effects of migratory ungulates on infectious disease hotspotsThomas MorrisonBiotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)BB/V004484/1Institute of Biodiversity, Animal Health and Comparative Medicine