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J Anim Ecol. 2008 Jan;77(1):110-9. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2656.2007.01302.x.

Cowpox virus infection in natural field vole Microtus agrestis populations: significant negative impacts on survival.

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Department of Veterinary Pathology, University of Liverpool, Liverpool, UK.


1. Cowpox virus is an endemic virus circulating in populations of wild rodents. It has been implicated as a potential cause of population cycles in field voles Microtus agrestis L., in Britain, owing to a delayed density-dependent pattern in prevalence, but its impact on field vole demographic parameters is unknown. This study tests the hypothesis that wild field voles infected with cowpox virus have a lower probability of survival than uninfected individuals. 2. The effect of cowpox virus infection on the probability of an individual surviving to the next month was investigated using longitudinal data collected over 2 years from four grassland sites in Kielder Forest, UK. This effect was also investigated at the population level, by examining whether infection prevalence explained temporal variation in survival rates, once other factors influencing survival had been controlled for. 3. Individuals with a probability of infection, P(I), of 1 at a time when base survival rate was at median levels had a 22.4% lower estimated probability of survival than uninfected individuals, whereas those with a P(I) of 0.5 had a 10.4% lower survival. 4. At the population level, survival rates also decreased with increasing cowpox prevalence, with lower survival rates in months of higher cowpox prevalence. 5. Simple matrix projection models with 28 day time steps and two stages, with 71% of voles experiencing cowpox infection in their second month of life (the average observed seroprevalence at the end of the breeding season) predict a reduction in 28-day population growth rate during the breeding season from lambda = 1.62 to 1.53 for populations with no cowpox infection compared with infected populations. 6. This negative correlation between cowpox virus infection and field vole survival, with its potentially significant effect on population growth rate, is the first for an endemic pathogen in a cyclic population of wild rodents.

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