1. Populations of white-footed mice Peromyscus leucopus and deer mice Peromyscus maniculatus increase dramatically in response to food availability from oak acorn masts. These populations subsequently decline following this resource pulse, but these crashes cannot be explained solely by resource depletion, as food resources are still available as population crashes begin.
2. We hypothesized that intestinal parasites contribute to these post-mast crashes; Peromyscus are infected by many intestinal parasites that are often transmitted by density-dependent contact and can cause harm to their hosts. To test our hypothesis, we conducted a factorial experiment in natural populations by supplementing food to mimic a mast and by removal of intestinal nematodes with the drug, ivermectin.
3. Both food supplementation and the removal of intestinal nematodes lessened the rate and magnitude of the seasonal population declines as compared with control populations. However, the combination of food supplementation and removal of intestinal nematodes prevented seasonal population crashes entirely.
4. We also showed a direct effect on the condition of individuals. Faecal corticosterone levels, an indicator of the stress response, were significantly reduced in populations receiving both food supplementation and removal of intestinal nematodes. This effect was observed in autumn, before the overwinter crash observed in control populations, which may indicate that stress caused by the combination of food limitation and parasite infection is a physiological signal that predicts low winter survival and reproduction.
5. This study is one of the few to demonstrate that the interaction between resource availability and infectious disease is important for shaping host population dynamics and emphasizes that multiple factors may drive oscillations in wild animal populations.
- host–pathogen interactions
- resource pulses