Richness and Composition of Niche-Assembled Viral Pathogen Communities

Eric W. Seabloom, Elizabeth T. Borer, Christelle Lacroix, Charles E. Mitchell, Alison G. Power

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


The pathogen and parasite community that inhabits every free-living organism can control host vital rates including lifespan and reproductive output. To date, however, there have been few experiments examining pathogen community assembly replicated at large-enough spatial scales to inform our understanding of pathogen dynamics in natural systems. Pathogen community assembly may be driven by neutral stochastic colonization and extinction events or by niche differentiation that constrains pathogen distributions to particular environmental conditions, hosts, or vectors. Here, we present results from a regionally-replicated experiment investigating the community of barley and cereal yellow dwarf viruses (B/CYDV's) in over 5000 experimentally planted individuals of six grass species along a 700 km latitudinal gradient along the Pacific coast of North America (USA) in response to experimentally manipulated nitrogen and phosphorus supplies. The composition of the virus community varied predictably among hosts and across nutrient-addition treatments, indicating niche differentiation among virus species. There were some concordant responses among the viral species. For example, the prevalence of most viral species increased consistently with perennial grass cover, leading to a 60% increase in the richness of the viral community within individual hosts (i.e., coinfection) in perennial-dominated plots. Furthermore, infection rates of the six host species in the field were highly correlated with vector preferences assessed in laboratory trials. Our results reveal the importance of niche differentiation in structuring virus assemblages. Virus species distributions reflected a combination of local host community composition, host species-specific vector preferences, and virus responses to host nutrition. In addition, our results suggest that heterogeneity among host species in their capacity to attract vectors or support pathogens between growing seasons can lead to positive covariation among virus species.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere55675
JournalPloS one
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 26 2013


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