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Ecological replacement of native red squirrels by invasive greys driven by disease


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Although a parapoxvirus harmful to red squirrels is present in UK squirrel populations it has not been considered a major cause of red squirrel decline, and replacement by the introduced grey squirrel, mainly because diseased individuals are rarely observed. By developing a generic model we show that parapoxvirus is likely to have played a crucial role in the red squirrel decline even though the prevalence of infection is low. Conservationists are quite rightly concerned with the invasion of exotic organisms such as the grey squirrel. Our work emphasizes that they, along with other ecologists, should pay particular attention to pathogens, even when they occur at low prevalence.