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  1. Abstract Transgenerational plasticity can help organisms respond rapidly to changing environments. Most prior studies of transgenerational plasticity in host–parasite interactions have focused on the host, leaving us with a limited understanding of transgenerational plasticity of parasites. We tested whether exposure to elevated temperatures while spores are developing can modify the ability of those spores to infect new hosts, as well as the growth and virulence of the next generation of parasites in the new host. We exposed Daphnia dentifera to its naturally co-occurring fungal parasite Metschnikowia bicuspidata , rearing the parasite at cooler (20°C) or warmer (24°C) temperatures and then, factorially, using those spores to infect at 20 and 24°C. Infections by parasites reared at warmer past temperatures produced more mature spores, but only when the current infections were at cooler temperatures. Moreover, the percentage of mature spores was impacted by both rearing and current temperatures, and was highest for infections with spores reared in a warmer environment that infected hosts in a cooler environment. In contrast, virulence was influenced only by current temperatures. These results demonstrate transgenerational plasticity of parasites in response to temperature changes, with fitness impacts that are dependent on both past and current environments. 
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  2. Abstract

    Disease ecologists now recognize the limitation behind examining host–parasite interactions in isolation: community members—especially predators—dramatically affect host–parasite dynamics. Although the initial paradigm was that predation should reduce disease in prey populations (“healthy herds hypothesis”), researchers have realized that predators sometimes increase disease in their prey. These “predator–spreaders” are now recognized as critical to disease dynamics, but empirical research on the topic remains fragmented. In a narrow sense, a “predator–spreader” would be defined as a predator that mechanically spreads parasites via feeding. However, predators affect their prey and, subsequently, disease transmission in many other ways such as altering prey population structure, behavior, and physiology. We review the existing evidence for these mechanisms and provide heuristics that incorporate features of the host, predator, parasite, and environment to understand whether or not a predator is likely to be a predator–spreader. We also provide guidance for targeted study of each mechanism and quantifying the effects of predators on parasitism in a way that yields more general insights into the factors that promote predator spreading. We aim to offer a better understanding of this important and underappreciated interaction and a path toward being able to predict how changes in predation will influence parasite dynamics.

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  3. Abstract

    Transmission from one host to another is a crucial component of parasite fitness. For some aquatic parasites, transmission occurs via a free‐living stage that spends time in the water, awaiting an encounter with a new host. These parasite transmission stages can be impacted by biotic and abiotic factors that influence the parasite's ability to successfully infect or grow in a new host.

    Here we tested whether time spent in the water column and/or exposure to common cyanobacterial toxins impacted parasite transmission stages. More specifically, we tested whether the infectivity, within host growth, and virulence of the fungal parasiteMetschnikowia bicuspidatachanged as a result of time spent in the water or from exposure to cyanotoxins in the water column. We exposed parasite transmission spores to different levels of one of two ecologically important cyanotoxins, microcystin‐LR and anatoxin‐a, and factorially manipulated the amount of time spores were incubated in water. We removed the toxins and used those same spores to infect one genotype of the common lake zooplanktonDaphnia dentifera.

    We found that cyanotoxins did not impact parasite fitness (infection prevalence and spore yield per infected host) or virulence (host lifetime reproduction and survivorship) at the tested concentrations (10 and 30 μg/L). However, we found that spending longer as a transmission spore decreased a spore's chances for successful infection: spores that were only incubated for 24 hr infected approximately 75% of exposed hosts, whereas spores incubated for 10 days infected less than 50% of exposed hosts.

    We also found a negative relationship between the final spore yield from infected hosts and the proportion of hosts that became infected. In treatments where spores spent longer in the water column prior to encountering a host, infection prevalence was lower (indicating lower per spore infectivity), but each infected host yielded more spores at the end of infection. We hypothesise that this pattern may result from intraspecific parasite competition within the host.

    Overall, these results suggest that transmission spores of this parasite are not strongly influenced by cyanotoxins in the water column, but that other aspects of spending time in the water strongly influence parasite fitness.

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  4. Abstract

    Virulence, the degree to which a pathogen harms its host, is an important but poorly understood aspect of host-pathogen interactions. Virulence is not static, instead depending on ecological context and potentially evolving rapidly. For instance, at the start of an epidemic, when susceptible hosts are plentiful, pathogens may evolve increased virulence if this maximizes their intrinsic growth rate. However, if host density declines during an epidemic, theory predicts evolution of reduced virulence. Although well-studied theoretically, there is still little empirical evidence for virulence evolution in epidemics, especially in natural settings with native host and pathogen species. Here, we used a combination of field observations and lab assays in theDaphnia-Pasteuriamodel system to look for evidence of virulence evolution in nature. We monitored a large, naturally occurring outbreak ofPasteuria ramosainDaphnia dentifera, where infection prevalence peaked at ~ 40% of the population infected and host density declined precipitously during the outbreak. In controlled infections in the lab, lifespan and reproduction of infected hosts was lower than that of unexposed control hosts and of hosts that were exposed but not infected. We did not detect any significant changes in host resistance or parasite infectivity, nor did we find evidence for shifts in parasite virulence (quantified by host lifespan and number of clutches produced by hosts). However, over the epidemic, the parasite evolved to produce significantly fewer spores in infected hosts. While this finding was unexpected, it might reflect previously quantified tradeoffs: parasites in high mortality (e.g., high predation) environments shift from vegetative growth to spore production sooner in infections, reducing spore yield. Future studies that track evolution of parasite spore yield in more populations, and that link those changes with genetic changes and with predation rates, will yield better insight into the drivers of parasite evolution in the wild.

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  5. Infectious disease can threaten host populations. Hosts can rapidly evolve resistance during epidemics, with this evolution often modulated by fitness trade-offs (e.g., between resistance and fecundity). However, many organisms switch between asexual and sexual reproduction, and this shift in reproductive strategy can also alter how resistance in host populations persists through time. Recombination can shuffle alleles selected for during an asexual phase, uncoupling the combinations of alleles that facilitated resistance to parasites and altering the distribution of resistance phenotypes in populations. Furthermore, in host species that produce diapausing propagules (e.g., seeds, spores, or resting eggs) after sex, accumulation of propagules into and gene flow out of a germ bank introduce allele combinations from past populations. Thus, recombination and gene flow might shift populations away from the trait distribution reached after selection by parasites. To understand how recombination and gene flow alter host population resistance, we tracked the genotypic diversity and resistance distributions of two wild populations of cyclical parthenogens. In one population, resistance and genetic diversity increased after recombination whereas, in the other, recombination did not shift already high resistance and genetic diversity. In both lakes, resistance remained high after temporal gene flow. This observation surprised us: due to costs to resistance imposed by a fecundity-resistance trade-off, we expected that high population resistance would be a transient state that would be eroded through time by recombination and gene flow. Instead, low resistance was the transient state, while recombination and gene flow re-established or maintained high resistance to this virulent parasite. We propose this outcome may have been driven by the joint influence of fitness trade-offs, genetic slippage after recombination, and temporal gene flow via the egg bank. 
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  6. Abstract

    The healthy herds hypothesis proposes that predators can reduce parasite prevalence and thereby increase the density of their prey. However, evidence for such predator‐driven reductions in the prevalence of prey remains mixed. Furthermore, even less evidence supports increases in prey density during epidemics. Here, we used a planktonic predator–prey–parasite system to experimentally test the healthy herds hypothesis. We manipulated density of a predator (the phantom midge,Chaoborus punctipennis) and parasitism (the virulent fungusMetschnikowia bicuspidata) in experimental assemblages. Because we know natural populations of the prey (Daphnia dentifera) vary in susceptibility to both predator and parasite, we stocked experimental populations with nine genotypes spanning a broad range of susceptibility to both enemies. Predation significantly reduced infection prevalence, eliminating infection at the highest predation level. However, lower parasitism did not increase densities of prey; instead, prey density decreased substantially at the highest predation levels (a major density cost of healthy herds predation). This density result was predicted by a model parameterized for this system. The model specifies three conditions for predation to increase prey density during epidemics: (i) predators selectively feed on infected prey, (ii) consumed infected prey release fewer infectious propagules than unconsumed prey, and (iii) sufficiently low infection prevalence. While the system satisfied the first two conditions, prevalence remained too high to see an increase in prey density with predation. Low prey densities caused by high predation drove increases in algal resources of the prey, fueling greater reproduction, indicating that consumer–resource interactions can complicate predator–prey–parasite dynamics. Overall, in our experiment, predation reduced the prevalence of a virulent parasite but, at the highest levels, also reduced prey density. Hence, while healthy herds predation is possible under some conditions, our empirical results make it clear that the manipulation of predators to reduce parasite prevalence may harm prey density.

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