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Data from: Viral transmission and infection prevalence in a cannibalistic host–pathogen system


Elderd, Bret; Van Allen, Ben; Dukic, Vanja; Dillemuth, Forrest (2023), Data from: Viral transmission and infection prevalence in a cannibalistic host–pathogen system, Dryad, Dataset,


Cannibalism, while prevalent in the natural world, is often viewed as detrimental to a cannibal’s health, especially when they consume pathogen-infected conspecifics. The argument stems from the idea that cannibalizing infected individuals increases the chance of coming into contact with a pathogen and subsequently becoming infected. Using an insect pest, the fall armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda), that readily cannibalizes at the larval stage and its lethal pathogen, we experimentally examined how cannibalism affects viral transmission at both an individual and population level. Prior to death, the pathogen in the system stops the larval host from growing, resulting in infected individuals being smaller than healthy individuals. This leads to size-structured cannibalism of infected individuals with the larger healthy larvae consuming the smaller infected larvae, which is commonly observed. At the individual level, we show that the probability of cannibalism is relatively high for both infected and uninfected individuals especially when the cannibal is larger than the victim. However, the probability of the cannibal becoming infected given that a pathogen-infected individual has been cannibalized is relatively low. On a population level, when cannibalism is allowed to occur transmission rates decline. Additionally, by cannibalizing infected larvae, cannibals lower the infection risk for non-cannibals. Thus, cannibalism can decrease infection prevalence and, therefore, may not be as deleterious as once thought. Under certain circumstances, cannibalizing infected individuals, from the uninfected host’s perspective, may even be advantageous, as one obtains a meal and decreases competition for resources with little chance of becoming infected.


Please see associated manuscript and associated README file.


National Science Foundation, Award: 1316334

U.S. Department of Agriculture, Award: 20196701429919