The effect of parasites on host population density and extinction: Experimental epidemiology with Daphnia and six microparasites

D. Ebert, M. Lipsitch, K. L. Mangin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

195 Scopus citations


Parasites have been shown to reduce host density and to induce host population extinction in some cases but not in others. Epidemiological models suggest that variable effects of parasites on individual hosts can explain this variability on the population level. Here, we aim to support this hypothesis with a specific epidemiological model using a cross-parasite species approach. We compared the effect of six parasites on host fecundity and survival to their effects on density and risk of extinction of clonal host populations. We contrast our empirical results of population density with predictions from a deterministic model and contrast our empirical results of host and parasite extinction rates with those predicted by a stochastic model. Five horizontally transmitted microparasites (two bacteria: white bacterial disease, Pasteuria ramosa; two microsporidia: Glugoides intestinalis, Ordospora colligata; ofie fungus: Metschnikowiella biscuspidata); and six strains of a vertically transmitted microsporidium (Flabelliforma magnivora) of the planktonic crustacean Daphnia magna were used. In life table experiments, we quantified fecundity and survival in individual parasitized and healthy hosts and compared these with the effect of the parasites on host population density and on the likelihood of host population extinction in microcosm populations. Parasite species varied strongly in their effects on host fecundity, host survival, host density reduction, and the frequency with which they drove host populations to extinction. The fewer offspring an infected host produced, the lower the density of an infected host population. This effect on host density was relatively stronger for the vertically transmitted parasite strains than for the horizontally transmitted parasites. As predicted by the stochastic simulations, strong effects of a parasite on individual host survival and fecundity increased the risk of host population extinction. The same was true for parasite extinctions. Our results have implications for the use of microparasites in biological control programs and for the role parasites play in driving small populations to extinction.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)459-477
Number of pages19
JournalAmerican Naturalist
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2000
Externally publishedYes


  • Daphnia magna
  • Experimental epidemiology
  • Host extinction
  • Host regulation
  • Individual and population level effects
  • Microparasites

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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