Demographic factors are fundamental in shaping infectious disease dynamics. Aspects of populations that create structure, like age and sex, can affect patterns of transmission, infection intensity and population outcomes. However, studies rarely link these processes from individual to population-scale effects. Moreover, the mechanisms underlying demographic differences in disease are frequently unclear. Here, we explore sex-biased infections for a multi-host fungal disease of bats, white-nose syndrome, and link disease-associated mortality between sexes, the distortion of sex ratios, and the potential mechanisms underlying sex differences in infection. We collected data on host traits, infection intensity, and survival of five bat species at 42 sites across seven years. We found females were more infected than males for all five species. Females also had lower apparent survival over winter and accounted for a smaller proportion of populations over time. Notably, female-biased infections were evident by early hibernation and likely driven by sex-based differences in autumn mating behavior. Male bats were more active during autumn which likely reduced replication of the cool-growing fungus. Higher disease impacts in female bats may have cascading effects on bat populations beyond the hibernation season by limiting recruitment and increasing the risk of Allee effects.
|Date made available
|Feb 24 2023