Parasites and pathogens lag behind their host during periods of host range advance

Ben L. Phillips, Crystal Kelehear, Ligia Pizzatto, Gregory P. Brown, Di Barton, Richard Shine

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

166 Citations (Scopus)


The process of rapid range expansion (as seen in many invasive species, and in taxa responding to climate change) may substantially disrupt host-parasite dynamics. Parasites and pathogens can have strong regulatory effects on their host population and, in doing so, exert selection pressure on host life history. We construct a simple individual-based model of host-parasite dynamics during range expansion. This model shows that the parasites and pathogens of a range-expanding host are likely to be absent from the host's invasion front, because stochastic events (serial founder events) in low-density frontal populations result in local extinctions or transmission failure of the parasite/pathogen and, hence, a preponderance of uninfected hosts in the invasion vanguard. This pattern is true for both density-dependent and density-independent transmission rates, although it is exacerbated in the case of densitydependent transmission because, in this case, transmission rates also decline on the front. Data from field surveys on the prevalence of lungworms (Rhabdias pseudosphaerocephala) in invasive cane toads (Bufo marinus) support these predictions, in showing that toads in newly invaded areas of tropical Australia lack the parasite, which only arrives 1-3 years after the toads themselves. The resultant "honeymoon phase" immediately post-invasion, when individuals in the invasion-front population are virtually pathogen-free, may lead to altered host population dynamics on the invasion front, causing, for example, high densities in invasion-front populations, followed by a decline in numbers as parasites and pathogens arrive and begin to reduce host viability. The honeymoon phase may ultimately impact the evolution of life-history investment strategies in both host and parasite on the invasion vanguard, as hosts are released from immune challenges and parasites continuously expand into a favorable and unoccupied niche.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)872-881
Number of pages10
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 01 Mar 2010
Externally publishedYes


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