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An ecological law and its macroecological consequences as revealed by studies of relationships between host densities and parasite prevalence

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Epidemiological models predict a positive relationship between host population density and abundance of macroparasites. Here I test these by a comparative study. I used data on communities of four groups of parasites inhabiting the gastrointestinal tract of mammals, nematodes of the orders Oxyurida, Ascarida, Enoplida and Spirurida, respectively. The data came from 44 mammalian species and represent examination of 16 886 individual hosts. I studied average prevalence of all nematodes within an order in a host species, a measure of community level abundance, and considered the potential confounding effects of host body weight, fecundity, age at maturity and diet. Host population density was positively correlated with parasite prevalence within the order Oxyurida, where all species have direct life cycles. Considering the effects of other variables did not change this. This supports the assumption that parasite transmission rate generally is a positive function of host population density. It also strengthens the hypothesis that host densities generally act as important determinants of species richness among directly transmitted parasites and suggests that negative influence of such parasites on host population growth rate increase with increasing host population density among host species. Within the other three nematode orders, where a substantial number of the species have indirect life cycles, no relationships between prevalence and host population density were seen. Again, considering the effects of other variables did not affect this conclusion. This suggests that host population density is a poor predictor of species richness of indirectly transmitted parasites and that effects of such parasites on host population dynamics do not scale with host densities among species of hosts.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: June 1, 2001

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