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Am Nat. 2002 Jun;159(6):706-13. doi: 10.1086/339996.

Parasite-driven extinction in spatially explicit host-parasite systems.

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  • 1Department of Biological Sciences, University of Stirling, Stirling, Scotland FK9 4LA, United Kingdom.


General host-parasite theory suggests that parasites may be implicated in the extinction of their hosts by causing instability that leads to increased risk of stochastic extinction. In contrast, spatially explicit models suggest that the parasite may directly drive the host population to extinction. Here we examine the ecological characteristics of host-parasite interactions that favor parasite-driven host extinction. Pair approximations and simulations show that parasites only drive their hosts to extinction when they significantly reduce host reproduction. As a matter of interest, parasites that have a relatively small effect on host death rate are more likely to cause host extinction. Parasite-driven host extinction occurs at any population size, whereas extinction caused by stochastic effects is less likely to occur in large host populations. Populations may therefore be under threat from parasites that stop host reproduction, and this type of parasite may prove to be the most effective biological pesticide.

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