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Effects of parasites on host energy expenditure: the resting metabolic rate stalemate

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Detrimental effects of parasitism on host fitness are frequently attributed to parasite-associated perturbations to host energy budgets. It has therefore been widely hypothesized that energetic costs of infection may be manifest as changes in host resting metabolic rate (RMR). Attempts to quantify these effects have yielded contradictory results across host–parasite systems. We used a meta-analysis of the literature to test the effects of parasites on mass-specific (n = 22) and whole-body (n = 15) host RMR. Parasites resulted in a qualitative increase in host RMR in the majority of studies; however, the overall effect of parasites on host RMR was small and statistically nonsignificant. Additionally, substantial among-study variation in host RMR could not be explained by any of the tested covariates. We conclude that the lack of an overall effect of parasites on host metabolism reflects inconsistent directionality and varying magnitudes of parasite-associated effects across studies, rather than an absence of system-specific effects. We contend that a general understanding of parasite effects on host energetics may be best achieved through identifying mechanisms underlying among-system variance in parasite effects on host RMR and relating parasite-associated perturbations of host energy budgets to robust estimates of host fitness.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Environmental and Life Sciences Graduate Program, Trent University, 1600 West Bank Drive, Peterborough, ON K9J 7B8, Canada. 2: Department of Biology, Trent University, Peterborough, ON K9J 7B8, Canada.

Publication date: 2011-11-26

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  • Published since 1929, this monthly journal reports on primary research contributed by respected international scientists in the broad field of zoology, including behaviour, biochemistry and physiology, developmental biology, ecology, genetics, morphology and ultrastructure, parasitology and pathology, and systematics and evolution. It also invites experts to submit review articles on topics of current interest.
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