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Experimental warming drives a seasonal shift in the timing of host-parasite dynamics with consequences for disease risk

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Abstract

Multi-species experiments are critical for identifying the mechanisms through which climate change influences population dynamics and community interactions within ecological systems, including infectious diseases. Using a host–parasite system involving freshwater snails, amphibians and trematode parasites, we conducted a year-long, outdoor experiment to evaluate how warming affected net parasite production, the timing of infection and the resultant pathology. Warming of 3 °C caused snail intermediate hosts to release parasites 9 months earlier and increased infected snail mortality by fourfold, leading to decreased overlap between amphibians and parasites. As a result, warming halved amphibian infection loads and reduced pathology by 67%, despite comparable total parasite production across temperature treatments. These results demonstrate that climate–disease theory should be expanded to account for predicted changes in host and parasite phenology, which may often be more important than changes in total parasite output for predicting climate-driven changes in disease risk.

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