Ecology Letters (2011) 14: 47–54
Climate change and variation in atmospheric ozone are influencing the intensity of ultraviolet radiation (UVR) reaching ecosystems. Changing UVR regimes, in turn, may alter epidemics of infectious disease. This possibility hinges on the sensitivity of epidemiologically relevant traits of host and parasite to UVR. We address this issue using a planktonic system (a zooplankton host, Daphnia dentifera, and its virulent fungal parasite, Metschnikowia bicuspidata). Controlled laboratory experiments, coupled with in situ field incubations of spores, revealed that quite low levels of UVR (as well as longer wavelength light) sharply reduced the infectivity of fungal spores but did not affect host susceptibility to infection. The parasite’s sensitivity to solar radiation may underlie patterns in a lake survey: higher penetration of solar radiation into lakes correlated with smaller epidemics that started later in autumn (as incident sunlight declined). Thus, solar radiation, by diminishing infectivity of the parasite, may potently reduce disease.