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Cannibalism amplifies the spread of vertically transmitted pathogens
- Sadeh, Asaf, Rosenheim, Jay A.
- Ecology 2016 v.97 no.8 pp. 1994-2002
- cannibalism, infectious diseases, models, parasites, pathogens, population density, risk
- Cannibalism is a widespread behavior. Abundant empirical evidence demonstrates that cannibals incur a risk of contracting pathogenic infections when they consume infected conspecifics. However, current theory suggests that cannibalism generally impedes disease spread, because each victim is usually consumed by a single cannibal, such that cannibalism does not function as a spreading process. Consequently, cannibalism cannot be the only mode of transmission of most parasites. We develop simple, but general epidemiological models to analyze the interaction of cannibalism and vertical transmission. We show that cannibalism increases the prevalence of vertically transmitted pathogens whenever the host population density is not solely regulated by cannibalism. This mechanism, combined with additional, recently published, theoretical mechanisms, presents a strong case for the role of cannibalism in the spread of infectious diseases across a wide range of parasite–host systems.