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Nature. 2004 Apr 22;428(6985):840-4.

Competition and mutualism among the gut helminths of a mammalian host.

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CSIRO Livestock Industries, F.D. McMaster Laboratories, Locked Bag 1, PO Armidale, New South Wales 2350, Australia.


Most animal species are infected with multiple parasite species; however, the role of interspecific parasite interactions in influencing parasite dynamics and shaping parasite communities has been unclear. Although laboratory studies have found evidence of cross-immunity, immunosuppression and competition, analyses of hosts in the field have generally concluded that parasite communities are little more than random assemblages. Here we present evidence of consistent interspecific interactions in a natural mammalian system, revealed through the analysis of parasite intensity data collected from a free-ranging rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) population, sampled monthly for a period of 23 yr. The wild rabbit plays host to a diverse gut helminth community that reflects the communities seen in other economically important domestic herbivores. These findings suggest that parasite interactions could have profound implications for the dynamics of parasite communities. The efficacy of parasite control programmes could be jeopardized if such interactions are not taken into account. In contrast, a clear understanding of such interactions may provide the basis for the development of more environmentally acceptable methods of parasite control.

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