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Keywords:

  • comparative analysis;
  • host–parasite interactions;
  • IUCN Red List;
  • parasite species richness;
  • wildlife conservation

Summary

  • 1
    Parasites and infectious diseases have become a major concern in conservation biology, in part because they can trigger or accelerate species or population declines. Focusing on primates as a well-studied host clade, we tested whether the species richness and prevalence of parasites differed between threatened and non-threatened host species.
  • 2
    We collated data on 386 species of parasites (including viruses, bacteria, protozoa, helminths and arthropods) reported to infect wild populations of 36 threatened and 81 non-threatened primate species. Analyses controlled for uneven sampling effort and host phylogeny.
  • 3
    Results showed that total parasite species richness was lower among threatened primates, supporting the prediction that small, isolated host populations harbour fewer parasite species. This trend was consistent across three major parasite groups found in primates (helminths, protozoa and viruses). Counter to our predictions, patterns of parasite species richness were independent of parasite transmission mode and the degree of host specificity.
  • 4
    We also examined the prevalence of selected parasite genera among primate sister-taxa that differed in their ranked threat categories, but found no significant differences in prevalence between threatened and non-threatened hosts.
  • 5
    This study is the first to demonstrate differences in parasite richness relative to host threat status. Results indicate that human activities and host characteristics that increase the extinction risk of wild animal species may lead simultaneously to the loss of parasites. Lower average parasite richness in threatened host taxa also points to the need for a better understanding of the cascading effects of host biodiversity loss for affiliated parasite species.