Predation shapes the impact of cancer on population dynamics and the evolution of cancer resistance

Authors: Cédric Perret; Cindy Gidoin; Beata Ujvari; Frédéric Thomas & Benjamin Roche


Brief summary of the paper:

Cancer is a widespread disease that affects most of the metazoans. However, cancer development is a slow process and, long before causing the death of the individual, may weaken organisms’ capacities and impair their interactions with other species.

Yet, the impact of cancer development on biotic interactions, and over the dynamics of the whole ecosystem, is still largely unexplored. As well, the feedback of altered biotic interactions on the evolution of resistance against cancer in the context of community ecology has not been investigated.

From this new perspective, we theoretically investigate how cancer can challenge expected interaction outcomes in a predator–prey model system, and how, in return, these altered interaction outcomes could affect evolution of resistance mechanism against cancer.

First, we demonstrate a clear difference between prey and predator vulnerability to cancer, with cancer having a limited impact on prey populations. Second, we show that biotic interactions can surprisingly lead to a null or positive effect of cancer on population densities.

Finally, our evolutionary analysis sheds light on how biotic interactions can lead to diverse resistance levels in predator populations. While its role in ecosystems is mostly unknown, we demonstrate that cancer in wildlife is an important ecological and evolutionary force to consider.