Predicting the effects of parasite co-infection across species boundaries

Joanne Lello*, Susan J. McClure, Kerri Tyrrell, Mark E. Viney

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

22 Citations (Scopus)
307 Downloads (Pure)


It is normal for hosts to be co-infected by parasites. Interactions among co-infecting species can have profound consequences, including changing parasite transmission dynamics, altering disease severity and confounding attempts at parasite control. Despite the importance of co-infection, there is currently no way to predict how different parasite species may interact with one another, nor the consequences of those interactions. Here, we demonstrate a method that enables such prediction by identifying two nematode parasite groups based on taxonomy and characteristics of the parasitological niche. From an understanding of the interactions between the two defined groups in one host system (wild rabbits), we predict how two different nematode species, from the same defined groups, will interact in co-infections in a different host system (sheep), and then we test this experimentally. We show that, as predicted, in co-infections, the blood-feeding nematode Haemonchus contortus suppresses aspects of the sheep immune response, thereby facilitating the establishment and/or survival of the nematode Trichostrongylus colubriformis; and that the T. colubriformis-induced immune response negatively affects H. contortus. This work is, to our knowledge, the first to use empirical data from one host system to successfully predict the specific outcome of a different co-infection in a second host species. The study therefore takes the first step in defining a practical framework for predicting interspecific parasite interactions in other animal systems.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20172610
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1874
Early online date14 Mar 2018
Publication statusPublished - 14 Mar 2018


  • Co-infection
  • Helminths
  • Immune response
  • Immunomodulation
  • Nematode
  • Population dynamics


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