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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2019 Apr 16;116(16):7911-7915. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1817323116. Epub 2019 Mar 29.

Disease mortality in domesticated animals is predicted by host evolutionary relationships.

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Department of Biology, McGill University, Montreal, QC, Canada H3A 1B1;
Botany, Forest, and Conservation Sciences, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada V6T 1Z4.
Biodiversity Research Centre, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada V6T 1Z4.
African Centre for DNA Barcoding, University of Johannesburg, Johannesburg, South Africa 2092.


Infectious diseases of domesticated animals impact human well-being via food insecurity, loss of livelihoods, and human infections. While much research has focused on parasites that infect single host species, most parasites of domesticated mammals infect multiple species. The impact of multihost parasites varies across hosts; some rarely result in death, whereas others are nearly always fatal. Despite their high ecological and societal costs, we currently lack theory for predicting the lethality of multihost parasites. Here, using a global dataset of >4,000 case-fatality rates for 65 infectious diseases (caused by microparasites and macroparasites) and 12 domesticated host species, we show that the average evolutionary distance from an infected host to other mammal host species is a strong predictor of disease-induced mortality. We find that as parasites infect species outside of their documented phylogenetic host range, they are more likely to result in lethal infections, with the odds of death doubling for each additional 10 million years of evolutionary distance. Our results for domesticated animal diseases reveal patterns in the evolution of highly lethal parasites that are difficult to observe in the wild and further suggest that the severity of infectious diseases may be predicted from evolutionary relationships among hosts.


domestication; host specificity; infectious disease; phylogeny; virulence

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