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Predators indirectly control vector-borne disease: linking predator–prey and host–pathogen models


Pathogens transmitted by arthropod vectors are common in human populations, agricultural systems and natural communities. Transmission of these vector-borne pathogens depends on the population dynamics of the vector species as well as its interactions with other species within the community. In particular, predation may be sufficient to control pathogen prevalence indirectly via the vector. To examine the indirect effect of predators on vectored-pathogen dynamics, we developed a theoretical model that integrates predator–prey and host–pathogen theory. We used this model to determine whether predation can prevent pathogen persistence or alter the stability of host–pathogen dynamics. We found that, in the absence of predation, pathogen prevalence in the host increases with vector fecundity, whereas predation on the vector causes pathogen prevalence to decline, or even become extinct, with increasing vector fecundity. We also found that predation on a vector may drastically slow the initial spread of a pathogen. The predator can increase host abundance indirectly by reducing or eliminating infection in the host population. These results highlight the importance of studying interactions that, within the greater community, may alter our predictions when studying disease dynamics. From an applied perspective, these results also suggest situations where an introduced predator or the natural enemies of a vector may slow the rate of spread of an emerging vector-borne pathogen.