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Parasitology. 2013 Jun;140(7):803-13. doi: 10.1017/S0031182012002259. Epub 2013 Feb 21.

Parasite infection and host group size: a meta-analytical review.

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Department of Biological Sciences, University of Calgary, 2500 University Drive NW, Calgary, Alberta T2N1N4, Canada.


Many studies have identified various host behavioural and ecological traits that are associated with parasite infection, including host gregariousness. By use of meta-analyses, we investigated to what degree parasite prevalence, intensity and species richness are correlated with group size in gregarious species. We predicted that larger groups would have more parasites and higher parasite species richness. We analysed a total of 70 correlations on parasite prevalence, intensity and species richness across different host group sizes. Parasite intensity and prevalence both increased positively with group size, as expected. No significant relationships were found between host group size and parasite species richness, suggesting that larger groups do not harbour more rare or novel parasite species than smaller groups. We further predicted that the mobility of the host (mobile, sedentary) and the mode of parasite transmission (direct, indirect, mobile) would be important predictors of the effects of group sizes on parasite infection. It was found that group size was positively correlated with the prevalence and intensity of directly and indirectly transmitted parasites. However, a negative relationship was observed between group size and mobile parasite intensity, with larger groups having lower parasite intensities. Further, intensities of parasites did not increase with group size of mobile hosts, suggesting that host mobility may negate parasite infection risk. The implications for the evolution and maintenance of sociality in host species are discussed, and future research directions are highlighted.

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