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The impact of intrinsic and extrinsic factors on the epidemiology of male-killing bacteria

Fisher, Adam M.; Knell, Robert J.; Price, Tom A.R.; Bonsall, Michael B.


Adam M. Fisher

Tom A.R. Price

Michael B. Bonsall


Many arthropod species are vulnerable to infection by bacteria that kill the male offspring of their female hosts. These male-killing bacteria (MKB) can greatly impact the ecology and evolution of their hosts, particularly when MKB prevalence is high and persistent through time. However, we still do not have a holistic understanding of the key determinants of MKB ecological epidemiology, particularly regarding the interplay between host-MKB traits and environmental conditions. Here, we derived a mathematical model to analyse the role that several intrinsic and extrinsic factors play in determining MKB epidemiology, and how these factors interact with one another. We found that the invasion threshold and prevalence of MKB is determined by transmission rate and the rate at which female hosts recover from MKB infections. The invasion and prevalence of MKB is also highly sensitive to the extent that MKB can reduce intra-brood competition by killing male offspring. Environmentally-induced periodic changes to the epidemiological characteristics of MKB caused a sharp decline and a slow recovery of MKB prevalence and, in some cases, environmental disturbance can drive MKB extinct. Furthermore, the magnitude of the impact that environmental disturbance had on the dynamics of MKB prevalence was heavily modulated by intrinsic factors, particularly intra-brood competition. This is the first study to explore how both intrinsic and extrinsic factors interact to influence the dynamics of MKB infections over large timescales; our findings are central to predicting the current and future impacts of MKB on host populations.


Fisher, A. M., Knell, R. J., Price, T. A., & Bonsall, M. B. (2022). The impact of intrinsic and extrinsic factors on the epidemiology of male-killing bacteria. Oikos, 2022(12), Article e09392.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Aug 10, 2022
Online Publication Date Sep 16, 2022
Publication Date Dec 1, 2022
Deposit Date Jul 9, 2023
Publicly Available Date Jul 17, 2023
Journal Oikos
Print ISSN 0030-1299
Electronic ISSN 1600-0706
Publisher Wiley
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 2022
Issue 12
Article Number e09392
Keywords Arthropod infections; Bacteria; Epidemiology; Male killers; Spiroplasma; Wolbachia
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Copyright Statement
© 2022 The Authors. Oikos published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of Nordic Society Oikos. This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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