If the deleterious effects of non-specific parasites are greater on vulnerable host species than on reservoir host species then exclusion of the vulnerable host through apparent competition is more likely. Evidence suggests that such a mechanism occurs in interactions between the ring-necked pheasant (Phasianus colchicus), the grey partridge (Perdix perdix), and their shared caecal nematode Heterakis gallinarum. Modelling of the system predicts that the reduced parasite impact on the pheasant compared to the partridge results in the force of infection transmitted from pheasants to partridges being sufficient to cause partridge exclusion. Since the parasite impacts are currently estimated from correlational work, controlled infections were conducted to experimentally compare the impact of H. gallinarum on the two hosts and verify cause and effect. While challenged partridges showed reduced mass gain, decreased food consumption, and impaired caecal activity, in comparison to controls, the only detectable effect of parasite challenge on the pheasant was impaired caecal activity. The impact of H. gallinarum on challenged partridges conforms with previous correlational data, supporting the prediction that parasite-mediated apparent competition with the ring-necked pheasant may result in grey partridge exclusion. However, the observed decrease in the caecal activity of challenged pheasants could imply that H. gallinarum may also have an impact on the fecundity and survival of pheasants in the wild, particularly if food is limiting. If this is the case, the associated decrease in the force of infection to which the partridge is exposed may be sufficient to change the model prediction from partridge exclusion to pheasant and partridge coexistence.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Animal Science and Zoology
- Infectious Diseases