Alison Duncan, Andy Gonzalez (McGill University) and Oliver Kaltz have published an article in the Proceedings of the Royal Society (Series B), investigating the impact of the structure of environmental noise on experimental parasite epidemics.
Duncan, A. B., A. Gonzalez, and O. Kaltz. 2013. Stochastic environmental fluctuations drive epidemiology in experimental host-parasite metapopulations. Proc. R. Soc. B 280:20131747.
Environmental fluctuations are important for parasite spread and persistence. However, the effects of the spatial and temporal structure of environmental fluctuations on host-parasite dynamics are not well understood. Temporal fluctuations can be random but positively autocorrelated, such that the environment is similar to the recent past (red noise), or random and uncorrelated with the past (white noise). We imposed red or white temporal temperature fluctuations on experimental metapopulations of Paramecium caudatum, experiencing an epidemic of the bacterial parasite Holospora undulata. Metapopulations (two subpopulations linked by migration) experienced fluctuations between stressful (5°C) and permissive (23°C) conditions following red or white temporal sequences. Spatial variation in temperature fluctuations was implemented by exposing subpopulations to the same (synchronous temperatures) or different (asynchronous temperatures) temporal sequences. Red noise, compared with white noise, enhanced parasite persistence. Despite this, red noise coupled with asynchronous temperatures allowed infected host populations to maintain sizes equivalent to uninfected populations. It is likely that this occurs because subpopulations in permissive conditions rescue declining subpopulations in stressful conditions. We show how patterns of temporal and spatial environmental fluctuations can impact parasite spread and host population abundance. We conclude that accurate prediction of parasite epidemics may require realistic models of environmental noise.