Complex effects of dietary provisioning on wildlife disease dynamics
Abstract: Urbanisation and agriculture cause declines for many wildlife, but some species benefit from novel resources, especially food, provided in human-dominated habitats. Resulting shifts in wildlife ecology can alter infectious disease dynamics and create opportunities for cross-species transmission, yet predicting host–pathogen responses to resource provisioning is challenging. Factors enhancing transmission, such as increased aggregation, could be offset by better host immunity due to improved nutrition. Here, we conduct a review and meta-analysis to show that food provisioning results in highly heterogeneous infection outcomes that depend on pathogen type and anthropogenic food source. We also find empirical support for behavioural and immune mechanisms through which human-provided resources alter host exposure and tolerance to pathogens. A review of recent theoretical models of resource provisioning and infection dynamics shows that changes in host contact rates and immunity produce strong non-linear responses in pathogen invasion and prevalence. By integrating results of our meta-analysis back into a theoretical framework, we find provisioning amplifies pathogen invasion under increased host aggregation and tolerance, but reduces transmission if provisioned food decreases dietary exposure to parasites. These results carry implications for wildlife disease management and highlight areas for future work, such as how resource shifts might affect virulence evolution.