Aim Comparative studies have revealed strong links between ecological factors and the number of parasite species harboured by different hosts, but studies of different taxonomic host groups have produced inconsistent results. As a step towards understanding the general patterns of parasite species richness, we present results from a new comprehensive data base of over 7000 host–parasite combinations representing 146 species of carnivores (Mammalia: Carnivora) and 980 species of parasites.
Methods We used both phylogenetic and non-phylogenetic comparative methods while controlling for unequal sampling effort within a multivariate framework to ascertain the main determinants of parasite species richness in carnivores.
Results We found that body mass, population density, geographical range size and distance from the equator are correlated with overall parasite species richness in fissiped carnivores. When parasites are classified by transmission mode, body mass and home range area are the main determinants of the richness of parasites spread by close contact between hosts, and population density, geographical range size and distance from the equator account for the diversity of parasites that are not dependent on close contact. For generalist parasites, population density, geographical range size and latitude are the primary predictors of parasite species richness. We found no significant ecological correlates for the richness of specialist or vector-borne parasites.
Main conclusions Although we found that parasite species richness increases instead of decreases with distance from the equator, other comparative patterns in carnivores support previous findings in primates, suggesting that similar ecological factors operate in both these independent evolutionary lineages.