Detecting parasite associations within multi-species host and parasite communities

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© 2019 The Author(s) Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved. Understanding the role of biotic interactions in shaping natural communities is a long-standing challenge in ecology. It is particularly pertinent to parasite communities sharing the same host communities and individuals, as the interactions among parasites—both competition and facilitation—may have far-reaching implications for parasite transmission and evolution. Aggregated parasite burdens may suggest that infected host individuals are either more prone to infection, or that infection by a parasite species facilitates another, leading to a positive parasite–parasite interaction. However, parasite species may also compete for host resources, leading to the prediction that parasite–parasite associations would be generally negative, especially when parasite species infect the same host tissue, competing for both resources and space. We examine the presence and strength of parasite associations using hierarchical joint species distribution models fitted to data on resident parasite communities sampled on over 1300 small mammal individuals across 22 species and their resident parasite communities. On average, we detected more positive associations between infecting parasite species than negative, with the most negative associations occurring when two parasite species infected the same host tissue, suggesting that parasite species associations may be quantifiable from observational data. Overall, our findings suggest that parasite community prediction at the level of the individual host is possible, and that parasite species associations may be detectable in complex multi-species communities, generating many hypotheses concerning the effect of host community changes on parasite community composition, parasite competition within infected hosts, and the drivers of parasite community assembly and structure.

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Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences

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