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1. Despite a growing interest in wildlife
disease ecology, there is a surprising lack of knowledge about the exposure dynamics of individual animals to naturally circulating infectious agents and the impact of such agents on host life-history traits. 2. The exploration of these questions requires detailed longitudinal data on individual animals that can be captured multiple times during their life but also requires being able to account for several sources of uncertainty, notably the partial observation or recapture of individuals at each sampling occasion. 3. We use a multi-year dataset to (i) assess the potential effect of exposure to the tick-borne agent of
Lyme disease, Borrelia burgdorferi sensu lato (Bbsl), on adult apparent survival for one of its natural long-lived hosts, the Black-legged kittiwake (Rissa tridactyla), and (ii) investigate the temporal dynamics of individual immunological status in kittiwakes to infer the rate of new exposure and the persistence of the immune response. Using a multi-event modelling approach, potential uncertainties arising from partial observations were explicitly taken into account. 4. The potential impact of Bbsl on kittiwake survival was also evaluated via an experimental approach: the apparent survival of a group of breeding birds treated with an antibiotic was compared with that of a control group. 5. No impact of exposure to Bbsl was detected on adult survival in kittiwakes, in either observational or experimental data. 6. An annual seroconversion rate (from negative to positive) of 1·5% was estimated, but once an individual became seropositive, it remained so with a probability of 1, suggesting that detectable levels of anti-Bbsl antibodies persist for multiple years. 7. These results, in combination with knowledge on patterns of exposure to the tick vector of Bbsl, provide important information for understanding the spatio-temporal nature of the interaction between this host and several of its parasites. Furthermore, our analyses highlight the utility of capture-mark-recapture approaches handling state uncertainty for
disease ecology studies.
© 2012 The Authors. Journal of Animal Ecology © 2012 British Ecological Society.