Royal Society Publishing

Invading parasites cause a structural shift in red fox dynamics

Mads C. Forchhammer, Tommy Asferg


The influence of parasites on host life histories and populations is pronounced. Among several diseases affecting animal populations throughout the world, sarcoptic mange has influenced many carnivore populations dramatically and during the latest epizootic in Fennoscandia reduced the abundance of red fox by over 70%. While the numerical responses of red fox populations, their prey and their competitors as well as clinical implications are well known, knowledge of how sarcoptic mange affects the structure of the dynamics of red fox populations is lacking. Integrating ecological theory and statistical modelling, we analysed the long–term dynamics (1955–1996) of 14 Danish red fox populations. As suggested by the model, invading sarcoptic mange significantly affected direct and delayed density dependence in red fox dynamics and concomitant shifts in fluctuation patterns were observed. Our statistical analyses also revealed that the spatial progressive spread of mange mites was mirrored in the autocovariate structures of red fox populations progressively exposed to sarcoptic mange.

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