Examining effects of persistent retroviral infection on fitness and pathogen susceptibility in a natural feline host

Roman Biek, Toni K. Ruth, Kerry M. Murphy, Charles R. Anderson, Mary Poss

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22 Scopus citations


Many animal populations carry endemic (i.e., permanently present) viruses but few studies have assessed the demographic consequences of these infections under natural conditions. We examined the effects of chronic infection with FIV Pco, a feline retrovirus, on the fitness and pathogen susceptibility of its natural host, the cougar (Puma concolor (L., 1771)), in the wild. Based on data obtained through intensive monitoring of 160 cougars from two populations, we estimated survival and different measures of host fecundity of infected and uninfected individuals. In addition, we used serological data collected from 207 cougars to test whether FIV Pco predisposes individuals to a higher probability of infection with other pathogens. We found no evidence for an overall reduction in survival due to FIV Pco when accounting for other sources of demographic variation (age, sex, and population). There was a consistent but nonsignificant trend towards poorer reproductive performance in FIV Pco-infected females. We found no serological evidence for a higher probability of secondary infections associated with FIV Pco. Overall, these results support the premise that chronic FIV Pco infection is asymptomatic in its natural cougar host, probably because of a long evolutionary association between virus and host. However, results of stochastic simulations indicate that only larger reductions in annual survival (>20%) can be excluded with confidence. Also, the possibility of a so far unrecognized cost of FIV Pco infection on cougar fecundity remains.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)365-373
Number of pages9
JournalCanadian Journal of Zoology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2006

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Animal Science and Zoology


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