, Volume 12, Issue 6, pp 717-727

Density, body mass and parasite species richness of terrestrial mammals

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We investigated the relationships between helminth species richness and body mass and density of terrestrial mammals. Cross-species analysis and the phylogenetically independent contrast method produced different results. A non-phylogenetic approach (cross-species comparisons) led to the conclusion that parasite richness is linked to host body size. However, an analysis using phylogenetically independent contrasts showed no relationship between host body size and parasite richness. Conversely, a non-phylogenetic approach generated a negative relationship between parasite richness and host density, whereas the independent contrast method showed the opposite trend – that is, parasite richness is positively correlated with host density. From an evolutionary perspective, our results suggest that opportunities for parasite colonization depend more closely on how many hosts are available in a given area than on how large the hosts are. From an epidemiological point of view, our results confirm theoretical models which assume that host density is linked to the opportunity of a parasite to invade a population of hosts. Our findings also suggest that parasitism may be a cost associated with host density. Finally, we provide some support for the non-linear allometry between density and mammal body mass (Silva and Downing, 1995), and explain why host density and host body mass do not relate equally to parasite species richness.