Parasitism effects on coexistence and stability within simple trophic modules
Parasites are important components of food webs. Although their direct effects on hosts are well-studied, indirect impacts on trophic networks, thus on non-host species, remain unclear. In this study, we investigate the consequences of parasitism on coexistence and stability within a simple trophic module: one predator consuming two prey species in competition. We test how such effects depend on the infected species (prey or predator). We account for two effects of parasitism: the virulence
... : the virulence effect (parasites affect the infected species intrinsic growth rate through direct effects on fecundity or mortality) and the interaction effect (increased vulnerability of infected prey or increased food intake of infected predators). Results show that coexistence is favored when effects have intermediate intensity. We link this result to modifications of direct and apparent competitions among prey species. Given a prey infection, accounting for susceptible-infected population structure highlights that coexistence may also be reduced due to predator-parasite competition. Parasites affect stability by modulating energy transfer from prey to predator. Predator infection therefore has a stabilizing effect due to increased energy fluxes and/or predator mortality. Our results suggest that parasites potentially increase species coexistence. Precise predictions however require an assessment of various parasite effects. We discuss the implications of our results for the functioning of trophic networks and the evolution of foraging strategies within food webs.