Investigating the Effects of Disease on Predator-prey Dynamics in a Protozoan/Bacterial Model System
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The relatively new field of eco-epidemiology investigates how diseases spread in relation to fundamental ecological topics. Knowing how diseases affect predator-prey dynamics, an important topic in ecology, may have beneficial applications in both conservation biology and biocontrol. However, most work in this field up to the current date has been purely theoretical (especially involving mathematical modeling). Experimental and observational evidence may or may not actually support mathematical models in the real world. In this experiment, we created microcosm communities with the ciliated protist species Tetrahymena pyriformis (predator), the bacterial species E. coli (prey), and bacteriophage T4 (pathogen) in order to determine how a pathogen affects predator-prey dynamics at the community level in a laboratory setting. The results indicate that T4 populations are benefited by the presence of the predator Tetrahymena, which may be due to the emergence of E. coli strains resistant to T4. If this is the case, Tetrahymena could be both hurting T4 on an ecological scale while helping T4 on an evolutionary scale.