Peak shift and epidemiology in a seasonal host-nematode system

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Insight into the dynamics of parasite-host relationships of higher vertebrates requires an understanding of two important features: the nature of transmission and the development of acquired immunity in the host. A dominant hypothesis proposes that acquired immunity develops with the cumulative exposure to infection, and consequently predicts a negative relationship between peak intensity of infection and host age at this peak. Although previous studies have found evidence to support this hypothesis through between-population comparisons, these results are confounded by spatial effects. In this study, we examined the dynamics of infection of the nematode Trichostrongylus retortaeformis within a natural population of rabbits sampled monthly for 26 years. The rabbit age structure was reconstructed using body mass as a proxy for age, and the host age-parasite intensity relationship was examined for each rabbit cohort born from February to August. The age-intensity curves exhibited a typical concave shape, and a significant negative relationship was found between peak intensity of infection and host age at this peak. Adult females showed a distinct periparturient rise in T. retortaeformis infection, with higher intensities in breeding adult females than adult males and non-breeding females. These findings are consistent with the hypothesis of an acquired immune response of the host to a parasite infection, supporting the principle that acquired immunity can be modelled using the cumulative exposure to infection. These findings also show that seasonally can be an important driver of host-parasite interactions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1163-1169
Number of pages7
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1568
StatePublished - Jun 7 2005

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)
  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


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