Disease dynamics in cyclic populations of field voles (Microtus agrestis): cowpox virus and vole tuberculosis (Mycobacterium microti)

R. Cavanagh, Xavier Lambin, T. Ergon, M. Bennett, Isla Margaret Graham, D. van Soolingen, M. Begon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

60 Citations (Scopus)


The possible role of pathogens in rodent population cycles has been largely neglected since Elton's 'epidemic hypothesis' of 1931. To revisit this question, 12 adjacent, cyclic but out-of-phase populations of field roles (Microtus agrestis) in North East England were studied and the initial results are presented here. The prevalences of antibodies to cowpox virus and of clinical signs of Mycobacterium microti infection (vole tuberculosis) showed delayed (not direct) density dependence (with a lag of three to six months). This did not result from changes in population structure, even though there were such changes associated with the different phases of the cycle. The prevalences rose as vole numbers rose, and peaked as numbers declined. The apparent lag in the numerical response of infection prevalence to changes in host abundance is consistent with the hypothesis that diseases, singly or in combination, play a hitherto underestimated role in the dynamics of cyclic populations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)859-867
Number of pages8
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society of London. B, Biological Sciences
Issue number1541
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2004


  • population cycles
  • disease transmission
  • time delays
  • host-pathogen dynamics
  • numerical response
  • red grouse
  • in-field
  • transmission dynamics
  • rodent populations
  • reservoir hosts
  • bank voles
  • density
  • prevalence
  • infection
  • persistence


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