Anat Eidelman, Carmit Cohen, Alvaro Navarro-Castilla, Serina Filler, Ricardo Gutierrez, Enav Bar-Shira, Naama Shahar, Mario Garrido, Snir Halle, Yoav Romach, Isabel Barja, Severine Tasker, Shimon Harrus, Aharon Friedman, and Hadas Hawlena

Interactions between coinfecting parasites may take various forms, either direct or indirect, facilitative or competitive, and may be mediated by either bottom-up or top-down mechanisms. Although each form of interaction leads to different evolutionary and ecological outcomes, it is challenging to tease them apart throughout the infection period. To establish the first step towards a mechanistic understanding of the interactions between coinfecting limited-term bacterial parasites and lifelong bacterial parasites, we studied the coinfection of Bartonella sp. (limited-term) and Mycoplasma sp. (lifelong), which commonly co-occur in wild rodents. We infected Bartonella– and Mycoplasma-free rodents with each species, and simultaneously with both, and quantified the infection dynamics and host responses. Bartonella benefited from the interaction; its infection load decreased more slowly in coinfected rodents than in rodents infected with Bartonella alone. There were no indications for bottom-up effects, but coinfected rodents experienced various changes, depending on the infection stage, in their body mass, stress levels and activity pattern, which may further affect bacterial replication and transmission. Interestingly, the infection dynamics and changes in the average coinfected rodent traits were more similar to the chronic effects of Mycoplasma infection, whereas coinfection uniquely impaired the host’s physiological and behavioral stability. These results suggest that parasites with distinct life history strategies may interact, and their interaction may be asymmetric, non-additive, multifaceted and dynamic through time. Because multiple, sometimes contrasting, forms of interactions are simultaneously at play and their relative importance alternates throughout the course of infection, the overall outcome may change under different ecological conditions.

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