Wildlife diseases: from individuals to ecosystems
Article first published online: 24 AUG 2010
© 2010 The Authors. Journal compilation © 2010 British Ecological Society
Journal of Animal Ecology
Volume 80, Issue 1, pages 19–38, January 2011
How to Cite
Tompkins, D. M., Dunn, A. M., Smith, M. J. and Telfer, S. (2011), Wildlife diseases: from individuals to ecosystems. Journal of Animal Ecology, 80: 19–38. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2656.2010.01742.x
- Issue published online: 8 DEC 2010
- Article first published online: 24 AUG 2010
- Received 31 March 2010; accepted 22 July 2010 Handling Editor: Ken Wilson
- apparent competition;
- contact network;
- ecosystem health;
- host regulation;
- parasite loss;
- trait mediated indirect effects;
1. We review our ecological understanding of wildlife infectious diseases from the individual host to the ecosystem scale, highlighting where conceptual thinking lacks verification, discussing difficulties and challenges, and offering potential future research directions.
2. New molecular approaches hold potential to increase our understanding of parasite interactions within hosts. Also, advances in our knowledge of immune systems makes immunological parameters viable measures of parasite exposure, and useful tools for improving our understanding of causal mechanisms.
3. Studies of transmission dynamics have revealed the importance of heterogeneity in host behaviour and physiology, and of contact processes operating at different spatial and temporal scales. An important future challenge is to determine the key transmission mechanisms maintaining the persistence of different types of diseases in the wild.
4. Regulation of host populations is too complex to consider parasite effects in isolation from other factors. One solution is to seek a unified understanding of the conditions under which (and the ecological rules determining when) population scale impacts of parasites can occur.
5. Good evidence now shows that both direct effects of parasites, and trait mediated indirect effects, frequently mediate the success of invasive species and their impacts on recipient communities. A wider exploration of these effects is now needed.
6. At the ecosystem scale, research is needed to characterize the circumstances and conditions under which both fluxes in parasite biomass, and trait mediated effects, are significant in ecosystem processes, and to demonstrate that parasites do indeed increase ‘ecosystem health’.
7. There is a general need for more empirical testing of predictions and subsequent development of theory in the classic research cycle. Experimental field studies, meta-analyses, the collection and analysis of long-term data sets, and data constrained modelling, will all be key to advancing our understanding.
8. Finally, we are only now beginning to understand the importance of cross-scale interactions associated with parasitism. Such interactions may offer key insights into bigger picture questions such as when and how different regulatory factors are important, when disease can cause species extinctions, and what characteristics are indicative of functionally resilient ecosystems.