Send to

Choose Destination
PLoS One. 2011;6(12):e29215. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0029215. Epub 2011 Dec 22.

Partitioning the aggregation of parasites on hosts into intrinsic and extrinsic components via an extended Poisson-gamma mixture model.

Author information

Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, Front Royal, Virginia, USA.


It is well known that parasites are often highly aggregated on their hosts such that relatively few individuals host the large majority of parasites. When the parasites are vectors of infectious disease, a key consequence of this aggregation can be increased disease transmission rates. The cause of this aggregation, however, is much less clear, especially for parasites such as arthropod vectors, which generally spend only a short time on their hosts. Regression-based analyses of ticks on various hosts have focused almost exclusively on identifying the intrinsic host characteristics associated with large burdens, but these efforts have had mixed results; most host traits examined have some small influence, but none are key. An alternative approach, the Poisson-gamma mixture distribution, has often been used to describe aggregated parasite distributions in a range of host/macroparasite systems, but lacks a clear mechanistic basis. Here, we extend this framework by linking it to a general model of parasite accumulation. Then, focusing on blacklegged ticks (Ixodes scapularis) on mice (Peromyscus leucopus), we fit the extended model to the best currently available larval tick burden datasets via hierarchical Bayesian methods, and use it to explore the relative contributions of intrinsic and extrinsic factors on observed tick burdens. Our results suggest that simple bad luck-inhabiting a home range with high vector density-may play a much larger role in determining parasite burdens than is currently appreciated.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for Public Library of Science Icon for PubMed Central
Loading ...
Support Center