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Title: The community ecology of rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) parasites
Author: Lello, Joanne
ISNI:       0000 0001 3608 0223
Awarding Body: University of Stirling
Current Institution: University of Stirling
Date of Award: 2003
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This thesis investigates aspects of the community ecology of rabbit parasites with particular emphasis upon the gut helminths, utilising a 23 (later extended to 26) year time series of rabbits and their parasites. A clearer understanding of parasite communities can lead to more effective biological control strategies. Rabbits are regarded as a serious pest species throughout Europe and the Antipodes and the use of the myxomatosis virus, as a biological control agent, has already been tried and failed. However, a clearer picture of the parasite community may offer future possibilities for control. Additionally, the rabbit is a good model for other grazing species, as it carries a similar gut helminth community. Drug resistance is an increasing problem in a wide range of parasites. A clearer appreciation of parasite communities could also aid in the search for effective and environmentally sound pathogen control strategies (e.g. via cross immunity or competition with benign species). Theoretical models have revealed the importance of aggregation to the stability of the host parasite relationship, to parasite evolution and to interspecific parasite interactions. A number of models have considered the effect of varying aggregation upon these dynamics with differing outcomes to those where aggregation was a fixed parameter. Here the stability of the distribution for each of the rabbit helminths was examined using Taylor's power law. The analyses revealed that aggregation was not a stable parameter but varied with month, year, host sex, host age, and host myxomatosis status. Evidence for the existence of interspecific parasite interactions in natural systems has been equivocal. Factors influencing parasite intensity were evaluated for the gut helminth. A network of potential interactions between the parasites was revealed. Only month was shown to be of greater influence on the community. Following, from the above analyses, a community model was constructed which incorporated both seasonal forcing and interspecific parasite interactions, with interaction mediated via host immunity. One unexpected emergent property was an interaction between the seasonality and the immune decay rate with slower immune decay resulting in a shift of the immune response out of phase with the species against which it was produced. The model was also used to assess the potential effects of two control strategies, an anticestodal and a single species vaccine. The vaccine had greater effects on the whole community than the anticestodal because of the immune- mediated interactions. The host is also an integral part of the community as the parasite dynamics are linked with that of their host. Therefore an assessment of the parasites' impact upon host condition and fecundity was also undertaken. This revealed a variety of positive and negative associations between the parasites and their host, with potential implications for future host control strategies. This study has shown that ignoring parasite-parasite or parasite-host interactions and interactions of both the host and the parasite with the external environment, could result in a poor description of the community dynamics. Such complexities need to be considered and incorporated into theory if future control strategies for either host or parasites are to be effective.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Helminths ; European rabbit--Biological control ; Pests--Biological control ; European rabbit--Parasites ; Host-parasite relationships