Disease transmission in an extreme environment: nematode parasites infect reindeer during the Arctic winter

Anja M. Carlsson*, K. Justin Irvine, Kenneth Wilson, Stuart B. Piertney, Odd Halvorsen, Stephen J. Coulson, Audun Stien, Steve D. Albon

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Citations (Scopus)


Parasitic nematodes are found in almost all wild vertebrate populations but few studies have investigated these host-parasite relationships in the wild. For parasites with free-living stages, the external environment has a major influence on life-history traits, and development and survival is generally low at sub-zero temperatures. For reindeer that inhabit the high Arctic archipelago of Svalbard, parasite transmission is expected to occur in the summer, due to the extreme environmental conditions and the reduced food intake by the host in winter. Here we show experimentally that, contrary to most parasitic nematodes, Marshallagia marshalli of Svalbard reindeer is transmitted during the Arctic winter. Winter transmission was demonstrated by removing parasites in the autumn, using a novel delayed-release anthelmintic bolus, and estimating re-infection rates in reindeer sampled in October, February and April. Larval stages of nematodes were identified using molecular tools, whereas adult stages were identified using microscopy. The abundance of M. marshalli adult worms and L4s increased significantly from October to April, indicating that reindeer were being infected with L3s from the pasture throughout the winter. To our knowledge, this study is the first to experimentally demonstrate over-winter transmission of a gastro-intestinal nematode parasite in a wild animal. Potential mechanisms associated with this unusual transmission strategy are discussed in light of our knowledge of the life-history traits of this parasite. (C) 2012 Australian Society for Parasitology Inc. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)789-795
Number of pages7
JournalInternational Journal for Parasitology
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2012


  • experiment
  • parasite-host interaction
  • over-winter transmission
  • Svalbard reindeer
  • Marshallagia marshalli
  • Rangifer-tarandus-platyrhynchus
  • population-dynamics
  • density-dependence
  • gastrointestinal nematodes
  • inhibited development
  • Ostertagia-gruehneri
  • abomasal nematodes
  • Trichostrongylus-tenuis
  • Marshallagia-marshalli


Dive into the research topics of 'Disease transmission in an extreme environment: nematode parasites infect reindeer during the Arctic winter'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this