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Am Nat. 2008 Apr;171(4):499-510. doi: 10.1086/528998.

Selective predation and rapid evolution can jointly dampen effects of virulent parasites on Daphnia populations.

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Kellogg Biological Station, Michigan State University, Hickory Corners, Michigan 49060, USA.


Parasites are ubiquitous and often highly virulent, yet clear examples of parasite-driven changes in host density in natural populations are surprisingly scarce. Here, we illustrate an example of this phenomenon and offer a theoretically reasonable resolution. We document the effects of two parasites, the bacterium Spirobacillus cienkowskii and the yeast Metschnikowia bicuspidata, on a common freshwater invertebrate, Daphnia dentifera. We show that while both parasites were quite virulent to individual hosts, only bacterial epidemics were associated with significant changes in host population dynamics and density. Our theoretical results may help explain why yeast epidemics did not significantly affect population dynamics. Using a model parameterized with data we collected, we argue that two prominent features of this system, rapid evolution of host resistance to the parasite and selective predation on infected hosts, both decrease peak infection prevalence and can minimize decline in host density during epidemics. Taken together, our results show that understanding the outcomes of host-parasite interactions in this Daphnia-microparasite system may require consideration of ecological context and evolutionary processes and their interaction.

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