Parasites prevent summer breeding in white-footed mice, Peromyscus leucopus

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Food and parasites can independently play a role in destabilizing population fluctuations of animals, and yet, more than 50 years ago, David Lack proposed that these two factors should act in concert. We examined the role of these factors on the vital rates of free-living white-footed mice (Peromyscus leucopus) over the summer and autumn months. We used a replicated factorial experiment in which deer exclosures doubled acorn availability and anthelmintic application reduced gastrointestinal helminths. Specifically, we wanted to know if either factor or an interaction between the two accounted for the midsummer breeding hiatus observed in this species. We found no influence of habitat quality on mouse breeding, vital rates, or demography; however, anthelmintic treatment resulted in mice continuing to reproduce during the hiatus at the same rate as previously, and they also exhibited increased body condition, growth rate, and survival. These results provide evidence that gastrointestinal helminths reduce P. leucopus reproductive output in central Pennsylvania, and these effects on reproduction could play a role in the unstable dynamics of small mammals.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2251-2258
Number of pages8
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 1 2008

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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