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Title: Multiple transmission routes sustain high prevalence of a virulent parasite in a butterfly host
Understanding factors that allow highly virulent parasites to reach high infection prevalence in host populations is important for managing infection risks to human and wildlife health. Multiple transmission routes have been proposed as one mechanism by which virulent pathogens can achieve high prevalence, underscoring the need to investigate this hypothesis through an integrated modelling-empirical framework. Here, we examine a harmful specialist protozoan infecting monarch butterflies that commonly reaches high prevalence (50–100%) in resident populations. We integrate field and modelling work to show that a combination of three empirically-supported transmission routes (vertical, adult transfer and environmental transmission) can produce and sustain high infection prevalence in this system. Although horizontal transmission is necessary for parasite invasion, most new infections post-establishment arise from vertical transmission. Our study predicts that multiple transmission routes, coupled with high parasite virulence, can reduce resident host abundance by up to 50%, suggesting that the protozoan could contribute to declines of North American monarchs.  more » « less
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Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
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National Science Foundation
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  1. Abstract

    Insect–pathogen dynamics can show seasonal and inter‐annual variations that covary with fluctuations in insect abundance and climate. Long‐term analyses are especially needed to track parasite dynamics in migratory insects, in part because their vast habitat ranges and high mobility might dampen local effects of density and climate on infection prevalence.

    Monarch butterfliesDanaus plexippusare commonly infected with the protozoanOphryocystis elektroscirrha(OE). Because this parasite lowers monarch survival and flight performance, and because migratory monarchs have experienced declines in recent decades, it is important to understand the patterns and drivers of infection.

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    Average infection prevalence was four times higher in western compared to eastern subpopulations. In eastern North America, the proportion of infected monarchs increased threefold since the mid‐2000s. In the western region, the proportion of infected monarchs declined sharply from 2000 to 2015, and increased thereafter. For both eastern and western subpopulations, years with greater summer adult abundance predicted greater infection prevalence, indicating that transmission increases with host breeding density. Environmental variables (temperature and NDVI) were not associated with changes in the proportion of infected adults. We found evidence for migratory culling of infected butterflies, based on declines in parasitism during fall migration. We estimated that tens of millions fewer monarchs reach overwintering sites in Mexico as a result ofOE, highlighting the need to consider the parasite as a potential threat to the monarch population.

    Increases in infection among eastern North American monarchs post‐2002 suggest that changes to the host’s ecology or environment have intensified parasite transmission. Further work is needed to examine the degree to which human practices, such as mass caterpillar rearing and the widespread planting of exotic milkweed, have contributed to this trend.

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  2. Abstract

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    We provide a synthesis of how to apply macroecological approaches to the study of ecoimmunology (i.e. macroimmunology). We first review spatial factors that could generate spatial variation in defence, highlighting the need for large‐scale studies that can differentiate competing environmental predictors of immunity and detailing contexts where this approach might be favoured over small‐scale experimental studies. We next conduct a systematic review of the literature to assess the frequency of spatial studies and to classify them according to taxa, immune measures, spatial replication and extent, and statistical methods.

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  3. Abstract

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  4. Abstract Aim

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    Sierra de Bahoruco National Park, Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.


    Migratory and resident birds (primarily Aves: Passeriformes) and their haemosporidian parasites (order Haemosporida,Plasmodium,HaemoproteusandParahaemoproteus).


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