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Fluke abundance versus host age for an invasive trematode (Dicrocoelium dendriticum) of sympatric elk and beef cattle in southeastern Alberta, Canada

Beck, Melissa A., Goater, Cameron P., Colwell, Douglas D., van Paridon, Bradley J.
International journal for parasitology 2014 v.3 no.3 pp. 263-268
Dicrocoelium dendriticum, beef cattle, calves, cross-sectional studies, elks, immune response, intermediate hosts, juveniles, liver, liver flukes, metacercariae, mortality, necropsy, ranchers, sympatry, Alberta
Epidemiological parameters such as transmission rate, rate of parasite-induced host mortality, and rate of development of host defenses can be assessed indirectly by characterizing the manner in which parasite burdens change with host age. For parasites that are host generalists, estimates of these important parameters may be host-species dependent. In a cross-sectional study, we determined age–abundance profiles of infection in samples of sympatric free-ranging elk and domestic cattle infected with the lancet liver fluke, Dicrocoelium dendriticum. This parasite was introduced into Cypress Hills Provincial Park in southeastern Alberta, Canada in the mid 1990s, and now occurs in 60–90% of co-grazing elk and beef cattle examined at necropsy. The livers of 173 elk were made available by hunters during the 1997–2011 hunting seasons and livers from 35 cattle were purchased from ranchers. In elk, median worm abundance peaked in 6–24 month-olds (median = 72, range = 0–1006) then significantly declined to <10 worms/host in 10–16 year olds. The decline in fluke burden with age is not consistent with an age-related decline in exposure to metacercariae in intermediate hosts and high rates of fluke-induced host mortality are unlikely. Rather, the pattern of peak fluke burdens in elk calves and juveniles, followed by a decline in older animals is consistent with the development of a protective immune response in older hosts. There was no pattern of worm accumulation or decline in sympatric cattle, although statistical power to detect a significant effect was low. These results highlight the complexity and context-dependent nature of epidemiological processes in multi-host systems.