The effect of seasonal birth pulses on pathogen persistence in wild mammal populations

A. J. Peel, J. R.C. Pulliam, A. D. Luis, R. K. Plowright, T. J. O'Shea, D. T.S. Hayman, J. L.N. Wood, C. T. Webb, O. Restif

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78 Scopus citations


The notion of a critical community size (CCS), or population size that is likely to result in long-term persistence of a communicable disease, has been developed based on the empirical observations of acute immunizing infections in human populations, and extended for use in wildlife populations. Seasonal birth pulses are frequently observed in wildlife and are expected to impact infection dynamics, yet their effect on pathogen persistence and CCS have not been considered. To investigate this issue theoretically, we use stochastic epidemiological models to ask how host life-history traits and infection parameters interact to determine pathogen persistence within a closed population. We fit seasonal birth pulse models to data from diverse mammalian species in order to identify realistic parameter ranges. When varying the synchrony of the birth pulse with all other parameters being constant, our model predicted that the CCS can vary by more than two orders of magnitude. Tighter birth pulses tended to drive pathogen extinction by creating large amplitude oscillations in prevalence, especially with high demographic turnover and short infectious periods. Parameters affecting the relative timing of the epidemic and birth pulse peaks determined the intensity and direction of the effect of pre-existing immunity in the population on the pathogen's ability to persist beyond the initial epidemic following its introduction.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20132962
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1786
StatePublished - 2014


  • Birth pulse
  • Critical community size
  • Seasonality
  • Stochastic model
  • Wildlife epidemiology


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