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Latitudinal gradients of parasite species richness in primates

Authors

  • Charles L. Nunn,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Integrative Biology, University of California, Berkeley CA 94720–3140, USA,
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  • Sonia M. Altizer,

    1. Department of Environmental Studies, Emory University, Atlanta, GA 30322, USA,
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  • Wes Sechrest,

    1. Department of Biology, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA 22904, USA,
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    • Present address: IUCN — The World Conservation Union, IUCN/SSC-CI/CABS Biodiversity Assessment Unit, c/o Center for Applied Biodiversity Science, Conservation International, Washington DC 20036, USA

  • Andrew A. Cunningham

    1. Institute of Zoology, Zoological Society of London, London NW1 4RY, UK
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Correspondence: Charles L. Nunn, Department of Integrative Biology, University of California, Berkeley CA 94720–3140, USA. E-mail: cnunn@berkeley.edu

ABSTRACT

Infectious disease risk is thought to increase in the tropics, but little is known about latitudinal gradients of parasite diversity. We used a comparative data set encompassing 330 parasite species reported from 119 primate hosts to examine latitudinal gradients in the diversity of micro and macroparasites per primate host species. Analyses conducted with and without controlling for host phylogeny showed that parasite species richness increased closer to the equator for protozoan parasites, but not for viruses or helminths. Relative to other major parasite groups, protozoa reported from wild primates were transmitted disproportionately by arthropod vectors. Within the protozoa, our results revealed that vector-borne parasites showed a highly significant latitudinal gradient in species richness. This higher diversity of vector-borne protozoa near the tropics could be influenced by a greater abundance or diversity of biting arthropods in the tropics, or by climatic effects on vector behaviour and parasite development. Many vector-borne diseases, such as leishmaniasis, trypanosomiasis, and malaria pose risks to both humans and wildlife, and nearly one-third of the protozoan parasites from free-living primates in our data set have been reported to infect humans. Because the geographical distribution and prevalence of many vector-borne parasites are expected to increase because of global warming, these results are important for predicting future parasite-mediated threats to biodiversity and human health.

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