Diversity and disease: community structure drives parasite transmission and host fitness.

Research paper by Pieter T J PT Johnson, Richard B RB Hartson, Donald J DJ Larson, Daniel R DR Sutherland

Indexed on: 12 Jul '08Published on: 12 Jul '08Published in: Ecology Letters


Changes in host diversity and community structure have been linked to disease, but the mechanisms underlying such relationships and their applicability to non-vector-borne disease systems remain conjectural. Here we experimentally investigated how changes in host community structure affected the transmission and pathology of the multi-host parasite Ribeiroia ondatrae, which is a widespread cause of amphibian limb deformities. We exposed larval amphibians to parasites in monospecific or heterospecific communities, and varied host number to differentiate between density- and diversity-mediated effects on transmission. In monospecific communities, exposure to Ribeiroia significantly increased mortality (15%), malformations (40%) and time-to-metamorphosis in toads. However, the presence of tree frogs significantly reduced infection in toads, leading to fewer malformations and higher survival than observed in monospecific communities, providing evidence of parasite-mediated facilitation. Our results suggest that interspecific variation in parasite resistance can inhibit parasite transmission in multi-species communities, reducing infection and pathology in sensitive hosts.