Host traits and competitive ability jointly structure disease dynamics and community assembly


Abstract 1. and competition are both ubiquitous interactions in ecological communities. The ability of host species to interact directly via competition and indirectly through shared parasites suggests that host traits related to competition and parasitism are likely important in structuring communities and disease dynamics. Specifically, those host traits affecting competition and those mediating parasitism are often correlated either because of trade‐offs (in resource acquisition or resource allocation) or condition dependence, yet the consequences of these trait relationships for community and epidemiological dynamics are poorly understood. 2. We conducted a literature review of parasite‐related host traits–competitive ability relationships. We found that transmission–competitive ability relationships were most often reported, and that superior competitors exhibited elevated transmission relative to their less‐competitive counterparts in nearly 80% of the cases. We also found a significant number of virulence–competitive ability and parasite shedding–competitive ability relationships. 3. We investigated these links by altering the relationship between host competitive ability and three parasite‐related traits (transmission, virulence and parasite shedding rates) in a simple model, incorporating competitive asymmetries in a multi‐host community. 4. We show that these relationships can lead to a range of different communities. For example, depending on the strength and direction of these distinct trait relationships, we observed communities with anywhere from high parasite prevalence to complete parasite extinction, and either one, two or the maximum of three host species coexisting. 5. Our results suggest that parasite–competitive ability relationships may be common in nature, that further integration of these relationships can produce novel and unexpected community and disease dynamics, and that generalizations may allow for the prediction of how parasitism and competition jointly structure disease and diversity in natural communities.

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