Zoonotic pathogens are significant burdens on global public health. Because they are transmitted to humans from non-human animals, the transmission dynamics of zoonoses are necessarily influenced by the ecology of their animal hosts and vectors. The ‘dilution effect’ proposes that increased species diversity reduces disease risk, suggesting that conservation and public health initiatives can work synergistically to improve human health and wildlife biodiversity. However, the meta-analysis that we present here indicates a weak and highly heterogeneous relationship between host biodiversity and disease. Our results suggest that disease risk is more likely a local phenomenon that relies on the specific composition of reservoir hosts and vectors, and their ecology, rather than patterns of species biodiversity.