Host weight, seasonality and anthropogenic factors contribute to parasite community differences between urban and rural foxes


  • C. Scholz
  • V.H. Jarquín-Díaz
  • A. Planillo
  • V. Radchuk
  • C. Scherer
  • C. Schulze
  • S. Ortmann
  • S. Kramer-Schadt
  • E. Heitlinger


  • Science of the Total Environment


  • Sci Total Environ 936: 173355


  • Pathogens often occur at different prevalence along environmental gradients. This is of particular importance for gradients of anthropogenic impact such as rural-urban transitions presenting a changing interface between humans and wildlife. The assembly of parasite communities is affected by both the external environmental conditions and individual host characteristics. Hosts with low body weight (smaller individuals or animals with poor body condition) might be more susceptible to infection. Furthermore, parasites' mode of transmission might affect their occurrence: rural environments with better availability of intermediate hosts might favour trophic transmission, while urban environments, typically with dense definitive host populations, might favour direct transmission. We here study helminth communities (141 intestinal samples) within the red fox (Vulpes vulpes), a synanthropic host, using DNA metabarcoding of multiple marker genes. We analysed the effect of urbanisation, seasonality and host-intrinsic (weight, sex) variables on helminth communities. Helminth species richness increased in foxes with lower body weight and in winter and spring. Season and urbanisation, however, had strong effects on the community composition, i.e., on the identity of the detected species. Surprisingly, transmission in two-host life cycles (trophic transmission) was more pronounced in urban Berlin than in rural Brandenburg. This disagrees with the prevailing hypothesis that trophically transmitted helminths are less prevalent in urban areas than in rural areas. Generally, co-infestations with multiple helminths and high infection intensity are associated with lighter (younger, smaller or low body condition) animals. Both host-intrinsic traits and environmental drivers together shape parasite community composition and turnover along urban-rural gradients.