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Free-living animals are usually inhabited by a community of parasitic species that can interact with each other and alter both host susceptibility and parasite transmission. In this study we tested the prediction that an increase in the gastrointestinal nematode Heligmosomoides polygyrus would increase the infestation of the tick Ixodes ricinus, in free-living yellow-necked mice, Apodemus flavicollis. An extensive cross-sectional trapping survey identified a negative relationship between H. polygyrus and I. ricinus counter to the prediction. An experimental reduction of the nematode infection through anthelmintic treatment resulted in an increase in tick infestation, suggesting that this negative association was one of cause and effect. Host characteristics (breeding condition and age) and habitat variables also contributed to affect tick infestation. While these results were counter to the prediction, they still support the hypothesis that interactions between parasite species can shape parasite community dynamics in natural systems. Laboratory models may act differently from natural populations and the mechanism generating the negative association is discussed.
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