Mortality trajectory analysis reveals the drivers of sex-specific epidemiology in natural wildlife-disease interactions
Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
In animal populations, males are commonly more susceptible to disease-induced mortality than females. However, three competing mechanisms can cause this sex bias: weak males may simultaneously be more prone to exposure to infection and mortality; being 'male' may be an imperfect proxy for the underlying driver of disease-induced mortality; or males may experience increased severity of disease-induced effects compared with females. Here, we infer the drivers of sex-specific epidemiology by decomposing fixed mortality rates into mortality trajectories and comparing their parameters. We applied Bayesian survival trajectory analysis to a 22-year longitudinal study of a population of badgers (Meles meles) naturally infected with bovine tuberculosis (bTB). At the point of infection, infected male and female badgers had equal mortality risk, refuting the hypothesis that acquisition of infection occurs in males with coincidentally high mortality. Males and females exhibited similar levels of heterogeneity in mortality risk, refuting the hypothesis that maleness is only a proxy for disease susceptibility. Instead, sex differences were caused by a more rapid increase in male mortality rates following infection. Males are indeed more susceptible to bTB, probably due to immunological differences between the sexes. We recommend this mortality trajectory approach for the study of infection in animal populations.
This work was supported by the National Environment Research Council via a CASE studentship award to D.H. The long-term studies at Woodchester Park are supported by the UK Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
This is the author accepted manuscript. The final version is available from the Royal Society via the DOI in this record.
Vol. 281 (1790), 20140526
Place of publication