Boots, Michael; Childs, Dylan; Reuman, Daniel; Mealor, Michael. 2009. Local interactions lead to pathogen driven change to host population dynamics. Current Biology. Vol: 19. Pages 1660-1664. (Abstract) (Online version)
Individuals tend to interact more strongly with nearby individuals or within particular social groups. Recent theoretical advances have demonstrated that these within-population relationships can have fundamental implications for ecological and evolutionary dynamics 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11. In particular, contact networks are crucial to the spread 12, 13, 14 and evolution 8, 9, 11, 15 of disease. However, the theory remains largely untested experimentally . Here, we manipulate habitat viscosity and thereby the frequency of local interactions in an insect-pathogen model system in which the virus had previously been shown to have little effect on host population dynamics 16, 17. At high viscosity, the pathogen caused the collapse of dominant and otherwise stable host generation cycles. Modeling shows that this collapse can be explained by an increase in the frequency of intracohort interactions relative to intercohort interactions, leading to more disease transmission. Our work emphasizes that spatial structure can subtly mediate intraspecific competition and the effects of natural enemies. A decrease in dispersal in a population may actually (sometimes rather counterintuitively) intensify the effects of parasites. Broadly, because anthropological and environmental change often cause changes in population mixing, our work highlights the potential for dramatic changes in the effects of parasites on host populations.