Spatial and temporal parasite dynamics: microhabitat preferences and infection progression of two co-infecting gyrodactylids.
Twumasi C., Jones O., Cable J.
BACKGROUND: Mathematical modelling of host-parasite systems has seen tremendous developments and broad applications in theoretical and applied ecology. The current study focuses on the infection dynamics of a gyrodactylid-fish system. Previous experimental studies have explored the infrapopulation dynamics of co-infecting ectoparasites, Gyrodactylus turnbulli and G. bullatarudis, on their fish host, Poecilia reticulata, but questions remain about parasite microhabitat preferences, host survival and parasite virulence over time. Here, we use more advanced statistics and a sophisticated mathematical model to investigate these questions based on empirical data to add to our understanding of this gyrodactylid-fish system. METHODS: A rank-based multivariate Kruskal-Wallis test coupled with its post-hoc tests and graphical summaries were used to investigate the spatial and temporal parasite distribution of different gyrodactylid strains across different host populations. By adapting a multi-state Markov model that extends the standard survival models, we improved previous estimates of survival probabilities. Finally, we quantified parasite virulence of three different strains as a function of host mortality and recovery across different fish stocks and sexes. RESULTS: We confirmed that the captive-bred G. turnbulli and wild G. bullatarudis strains preferred the caudal and rostral regions respectively across different fish stocks; however, the wild G. turnbulli strain changed microhabitat preference over time, indicating microhabitat preference of gyrodactylids is host and time dependent. The average time of host infection before recovery or death was between 6 and 14 days. For this gyrodactylid-fish system, a longer period of host infection led to a higher chance of host recovery. Parasite-related mortalities are host, sex and time dependent, whereas fish size is confirmed to be the key determinant of host recovery. CONCLUSION: From existing empirical data, we provided new insights into the gyrodactylid-fish system. This study could inform the modelling of other host-parasite interactions where the entire infection history of the host is of interest by adapting multi-state Markov models. Such models are under-utilised in parasitological studies and could be expanded to estimate relevant epidemiological traits concerning parasite virulence and host survival.