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Asynchrony in host and parasite phenology may decrease disease risk in livestock under climate warming: Nematodirus battus in lambs as a case study

  • OWEN J. GETHINGS (a1) (a2), HANNAH ROSE (a1) (a3), SIÂN MITCHELL (a4), JAN VAN DIJK (a5) and ERIC R. MORGAN (a3) (a6)...

Mismatch in the phenology of trophically linked species as a result of climate warming has been shown to have far-reaching effects on animal communities, but implications for disease have so far received limited attention. This paper presents evidence suggestive of phenological asynchrony in a host-parasite system arising from climate change, with impacts on transmission. Diagnostic laboratory data on outbreaks of infection with the pathogenic nematode Nematodirus battus in sheep flocks in the UK were used to validate region-specific models of the effect of spring temperature on parasite transmission. The hatching of parasite eggs to produce infective larvae is driven by temperature, while the availability of susceptible hosts depends on lambing date, which is relatively insensitive to inter-annual variation in spring temperature. In southern areas and in warmer years, earlier emergence of infective larvae in spring was predicted, with decline through mortality before peak availability of susceptible lambs. Data confirmed model predictions, with fewer outbreaks recorded in those years and regions. Overlap between larval peaks and lamb availability was not reduced in northern areas, which experienced no decreases in the number of reported outbreaks. Results suggest that phenological asynchrony arising from climate warming may affect parasite transmission, with non-linear but predictable impacts on disease burden. Improved understanding of complex responses of host-parasite systems to climate change can contribute to effective adaptation of parasite control strategies.

Corresponding author
* Corresponding author. University of Bristol, Life Sciences Building, Tyndall Avenue, Bristol, BS8 1TQ, UK. E-mail:
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