Seasonal host dynamics drive the timing of recurrent epidemics in a wildlife population

Michael Begon, Sandra Telfer, Matthew J Smith, Sarah Burthe, Steve Paterson, Xavier Lambin

Abstract

The seasonality of recurrent epidemics has been largely neglected, especially where patterns are not driven by forces external to the population. Here, we use data on cowpox virus in field voles to explore the seasonal patterns in wildlife (variable abundance) populations and compare these with patterns previously found in humans. Timing in our system was associated with both the number and the rate of recruitment of susceptible hosts. A plentiful and sustained supply of susceptible hosts throughout the summer gave rise to a steady rise in infected hosts and a late peak. A meagre supply more limited in time was often insufficient to sustain an increase in infected hosts, leading to an early peak followed by a decline. These seasonal patterns differed from those found in humans, but the underlying association found between the timing and the supply of susceptible hosts was similar to that in humans. We also combine our data with a model to explore these differences between humans and wildlife. Model results emphasize the importance of the interplay between seasonal infection and recruitment and suggest that our empirical patterns have a relevance extending beyond our own system.

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Footnotes

  • Present address: CEH Edinburgh, Bush Estate, Penicuik EH26 0QB, UK.

    • Received November 24, 2008.
    • Accepted December 17, 2008.
  • This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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