Novel epidemiological model of gastrointestinal-nematode infection to assess grazing cattle resilience by integrating host growth, parasite, grass and environmental dynamics

Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory
Gastrointestinal nematode (GIN) infections are ubiquitous and often cause morbidity and reduced performance in livestock. Emerging anthelmintic resistance and increasing change in climate patterns require evaluation of alternatives to traditional treatment and management practices. Mathematical models of parasite transmission between hosts and the environment have contributed towards the design of appropriate control strategies in ruminants, but have yet to account for relationships between climate, infection pressure, immunity, resources, and growth. Here, we develop a new epidemiological model of GIN transmission in a herd of grazing cattle, including host tolerance (body weight and feed intake), parasite burden and acquisition of immunity, together with weather-dependent development of parasite free-living stages, and the influence of grass availability on parasite transmission. Dynamic host, parasite and environmental factors drive a variable rate of transmission. Using literature sources, the model was parametrised for Ostertagia ostertagi, the prevailing pathogenic GIN in grazing cattle populations in temperate climates. Model outputs were validated on published empirical studies from first season grazing cattle in Northern Europe. These results show satisfactory qualitative and quantitative performance of the model; they also indicate the model may approximate the dynamics of grazing systems under co-infection by O. ostertagi and Cooperia oncophora, a second GIN species common in cattle. In addition, model behaviour was explored under illustrative anthelmintic treatment strategies, considering impacts on parasitological and performance variables. The model has potential for extension to explore altered infection dynamics as a result of management and climate change, and to optimise treatment strategies accordingly. As the first mechanistic model to combine parasitic and free-living stages of GIN with host feed-intake and growth, it is well suited to predict complex system responses under non-stationary conditions. We discuss the implications, limitations and extensions of the model, and its potential to assist in the development of sustainable parasite control strategies.
Refereed journal
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