The present paper describes how age–intensity profiles of macroparasite burdens are affected by processes underlying the distribution of the parasite numbers in host populations. In a comparative way, we consider the following 6 processes: (i) age-dependent exposure, (ii) parasite-induced host mortality, (iii) heterogeneity within the host population, (iv) clumped infection, (v) density-dependent parasite mortality and (vi) density-dependent parasite establishment. For each of these processes, we show typical patterns in the age–intensity profile and provide, if possible, explicit and simple solutions for the age-dependent mean parasite burden and the corresponding dispersion patterns. Emphasis is given to density-dependent parasite establishment and to age–intensity profiles resulting from the superposition of different processes. By means of 2 examples we show that the interpretation of observed patterns can be ambiguous if more than 1 process takes place. These findings underline that age–intensity profiles should be interpreted on the basis of available a priori knowledge about the processes assumed to be involved. For purposes of testing different hypotheses, a simulation program is provided with which discrepancies between model prediction and data can be explored.
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