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Biol Rev Camb Philos Soc. 2009 Nov;84(4):567-88. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-185X.2009.00087.x. Epub 2009 Aug 7.

A meta-analysis of parasite virulence in nestling birds.

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  • 1Laboratoire d'Ecologie, Systématique et Evolution, CNRS UMR 8079, Université Paris-Sud, Bâtiment 362, F-91405 Orsay Cedex, France.


Parasitism is a common cause of host mortality, but little is known about the ecological factors affecting parasite virulence (the rate of mortality among infected hosts). We reviewed 117 field estimates of parasite-induced nestling mortality in birds, showing that there was significant consistency in mortality among host and parasite taxa. Virulence increased towards the tropics in analyses of both species-specific data and phylogenetic analyses. We found evidence of greater parasite prevalence being associated with reduced virulence. Furthermore, bird species breeding in open nest sites suffered from greater parasite-induced mortality than hole-nesting species. By contrast, parasite specialization and generation time of parasites relative to that of hosts explained little variation in virulence. Likewise, there were little or no significant effects of host genetic variability, host sociality, host migration, host insular distribution or host survival on parasite virulence. These findings suggest that parasite-induced nestling mortality in birds is mainly determined by geographical location and to a smaller extent nest site and prevalence.

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