Distinct life history strategies underpin clear patterns of succession
in microparasite communities infecting a wild mammalian host
In free-living ecological communities, organismal life histories shape
interactions with their environment, which ultimately forms the basis of
ecological succession. Individual animals in natural populations tend to
host diverse parasite species concurrently over their lifetimes.
However, the structure and dynamics of mammalian parasite communities
have not been contextualized in terms of primary ecological succession,
in part because few datasets track occupancy and abundance of multiple
parasites in wild hosts starting at birth. Here, we studied community
dynamics of twelve subtypes of protozoan microparasites (Theileria spp.)
in a herd of African buffalo. We show that Theileria communities
followed predictable patterns of succession underpinned by four
different parasite life-history strategies. In contrast to many
free-living communities, network complexity decreased with host age.
Examining parasite communities through the lens of succession may better
inform the effect of complex within host eco-evolutionary dynamics on
infection outcomes, including parasite co-existence through the lifetime
of the host.