Cowpox virus infection in natural field vole Microtus agrestis populations: delayed density dependence and individual risk

Sarah Burthe, Sandra Telfer, Xavier Lambin, Malcolm Bennett, David Carslake, Andrew Smith, Michael Begon

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35 Citations (Scopus)


1. Little is known about the dynamics of pathogen (microparasite) infection in wildlife populations, and less still about sources of variation in the risk of infection. Here we present the first detailed analysis of such variation.
2. Cowpox virus is an endemic sublethal pathogen circulating in populations of wild rodents. Cowpox prevalence was monitored longitudinally for 2 years, in populations of field voles exhibiting multiannual cycles of density in Kielder Forest, UK.
3. The probability that available susceptible animals seroconverted in a given trap session was significantly positively related to host density with a 3-month time lag.
4. Males were significantly more likely to seroconvert than females.
5. Despite most infection being found in young animals (because transmission rates were generally high) mature individuals were more likely to seroconvert than immature ones, suggesting that behavioural or physiological changes associated with maturity contribute to variation in infection risk.
6. Hence, these analyses confirm that there is a delayed numerical response of cowpox infection to vole density, supporting the hypothesis that endemic pathogens may play some part in shaping vole cycles.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1416-1425
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Animal Ecology
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2006


  • host-parasite dynamics
  • host-pathogen interactions
  • wildlife disease
  • smal mammals
  • in field
  • Trichostrongylus tenuis
  • transmission dynamics
  • rodent populations
  • cyclic populations
  • reservoir hosts
  • prairie voles
  • red grouse
  • bank voles

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