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Climate changes influence free-living stages of soil-transmitted parasites of European rabbits

Authors

  • Alexander D. Hernandez,

    1. Center for Infectious Disease Dynamics and Department of Biology, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA, USA
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  • Adam Poole,

    1. Center for Infectious Disease Dynamics and Department of Biology, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA, USA
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  • Isabella M. Cattadori

    Corresponding author
    • Center for Infectious Disease Dynamics and Department of Biology, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA, USA
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Correspondence: Isabella M. Cattadori, tel. +1 814 865 9594, fax +1 814 865 9131, e-mail: imc3@psu.edu

Abstract

Climate warming has been suggested to augment the risk of infectious disease outbreaks by extending the seasonal window for parasite growth and by increasing the rate of transmission. Understanding how this occurs in parasite-host systems is important for appreciating long-term and seasonal changes in host exposure to infection and to reduce species extinction caused by diseases. We investigated how free-living stages of two soil-transmitted helminths of the European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) responded to experimental changes in temperature by performing laboratory experiments with environmental chambers and field manipulations using open-top-chambers. This study was motivated by our previous observations that air temperature has increased over the last 30 years in our field site and that during this period intensity of infection of Graphidium strigosum but not Trichostrongylus retortaeformis was positively associated with this temperature increase. Laboratory and field experiments showed that both parasites accelerated egg development and increased hatching rate and larval survival in response to accumulating thermal energy. Both parasites behaved similarly when exposed to diverse temperature regimes, decadal trends, and monthly fluctuations, however, T. retortaeformis was more successful than G. strigosum by showing higher rates of egg hatching and larval survival. Across the months, the first day of hatching occurred earlier in warmer conditions suggesting that climate warming can lengthen the period of parasite growth and host exposure to infective stages. Also, T. retortaeformis hatched earlier than G. strigosum. These findings showed that seasonal changes in intensity, frequency, and duration of daily temperature are important causes of variability in egg hatching and larva survival. Overall, this study emphasizes the important role of climate warming and seasonality on the dynamics of free-living stages in soil-transmitted helminths and their contribution to enhance host exposure to parasitic infections. Yet, the ability to infect might ultimately depend on how hosts interact with parasites.

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