Do animals living in larger groups experience greater parasitism? A meta-analysis.

Journal Article (Journal Article)

Parasitism is widely viewed as the primary cost of sociality and a constraint on group size, yet studies report varied associations between group size and parasitism. Using the largest database of its kind, we performed a meta-analysis of 69 studies of the relationship between group size and parasite risk, as measured by parasitism and immune defenses. We predicted a positive correlation between group size and parasitism with organisms that show contagious and environmental transmission and a negative correlation for searching parasites, parasitoids, and possibly vector-borne parasites (on the basis of the encounter-dilution effect). Overall, we found a positive effect of group size (r = 0.187) that varied in magnitude across transmission modes and measures of parasite risk, with only weak indications of publication bias. Among different groups of hosts, we found a stronger relationship between group size and parasite risk in birds than in mammals, which may be driven by ecological and social factors. A metaregression showed that effect sizes increased with maximum group size. Phylogenetic meta-analyses revealed no evidence for phylogenetic signal in the strength of the group size-parasitism relationship. We conclude that group size is a weak predictor of parasite risk except in species that live in large aggregations, such as colonial birds, in which effect sizes are larger.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Rifkin, JL; Nunn, CL; Garamszegi, LZ

Published Date

  • July 2012

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 180 / 1

Start / End Page

  • 70 - 82

PubMed ID

  • 22673652

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1537-5323

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0003-0147

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1086/666081


  • eng