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Empirical evidence that metabolic theory describes the temperature dependency of within-host parasite dynamics

Abstract

The complexity of host–parasite interactions makes it difficult to predict how host–parasite systems will respond to climate change. In particular, host and parasite traits such as survival and virulence may have distinct temperature dependencies that must be integrated into models of disease dynamics. Using experimental data from Daphnia magna and a microsporidian parasite, we fitted a mechanistic model of the within-host parasite population dynamics. Model parameters comprising host aging and mortality, as well as parasite growth, virulence, and equilibrium abundance, were specified by relationships arising from the metabolic theory of ecology. The model effectively predicts host survival, parasite growth, and the cost of infection across temperature while using less than half the parameters compared to modeling temperatures discretely. Our results serve as a proof of concept that linking simple metabolic models with a mechanistic host–parasite framework can be used to predict temperature responses of parasite population dynamics at the within-host level.

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