Disease-mediated bottom-up regulation: An emergent virus affects a keystone prey, and alters the dynamics of trophic webs

Pedro Monterroso, Germán Garrote, Ana Serronha, Emídio Santos, Miguel Delibes-Mateos, Joana Abrantes, Ramón Perez De Ayala, Fernando Silvestre, João Carvalho, Inês Vasco, Ana M. Lopes, Elisa Maio, Maria J. Magalhães, L. Scott Mills, Pedro J. Esteves, Miguel Ngel Simón, Paulo C. Alves

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

53 Scopus citations

Abstract

Emergent diseases may alter the structure and functioning of ecosystems by creating new biotic interactions and modifying existing ones, producing cascading processes along trophic webs. Recently, a new variant of the rabbit haemorrhagic disease virus (RHDV2 or RHDVb) arguably caused widespread declines in a keystone prey in Mediterranean ecosystems - the European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus). We quantitatively assess the impact of RHDV2 on natural rabbit populations and in two endangered apex predator populations: the Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus) and the Spanish Imperial eagle (Aquila adalberti). We found 60-70% declines in rabbit populations, followed by decreases of 65.7% in Iberian lynx and 45.5% in Spanish Imperial eagle fecundities. A revision of the web of trophic interactions among rabbits and their dependent predators suggests that RHDV2 acts as a keystone species, and may steer Mediterranean ecosystems to management-dependent alternative states, dominated by simplified mesopredator communities. This model system stresses the importance of diseases as functional players in the dynamics of trophic webs.

Original languageEnglish
Article number36072
JournalScientific Reports
Volume6
DOIs
StatePublished - Oct 31 2016

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