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Unhealthy herds and the predator spreader: understanding when predation increases disease incidence and prevalence
  • Robert Richards,
  • Bret Elderd,
  • Meghan Duffy
Robert Richards
Louisiana State University

Corresponding Author:[email protected]

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Bret Elderd
Louisiana State University
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Meghan Duffy
University of Michigan
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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 towards being able to predict how changes in predation will influence parasite dynamics.