Crayfish population size under different routes of pathogen transmission

Mikko Koivu-Jolma, Raine Kortet, Anssi Vainikka, Veijo Kaitala
We present an epidemiological model for the crayfish plague, a disease caused by an invasive oomycete Aphanomyces astaci, and its general susceptible freshwater crayfish host. The pathogen shows high virulence with resulting high mortality rates in freshwater crayfishes native to Europe, Asia, Australia, and South America. The crayfish plague occurrence shows complicated dynamics due to the several types of possible infection routes, which include cannibalism and necrophagy. We explore this complexity by addressing the roles of host cannibalism and the multiple routes of transmission through (1) environment, (2) contact, (3) cannibalism, and (4) scavenging of infected carcasses. We describe a compartment model having six classes of crayfish and a pool of crayfish plague spores from a single nonevolving strain. We show that environmental transmission is the decisive factor in the development of epidemics. Compared with a pathogen-free crayfish population, the presence of the pathogen with a low environmental transmission rate, regardless of the contact transmission rate, decreases the crayfish population size with a low risk of extinction. Conversely, a high transmission rate could drive both the crayfish and pathogen populations to extinction. High contact transmission rate with a low but nonzero environmental transmission rate can have mixed outcomes from extinction to large healthy population, depending on the initial values. Scavenging and cannibalism have a relevant role only when the environmental transmission rate is low, but scavenging can destabilize the system by transmitting the pathogen from a dead to a susceptible host. To the contrary, cannibalism stabilizes the dynamics by decreasing the proportion of infected population. Our model provides a simple tool for further analysis of complex host parasite dynamics and for the general understanding of crayfish disease dynamics in the wild.

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