Primate disease ecology in comparative and theoretical perspective.
Infectious disease plays a major role in the lives of wild primates, and the past decade has witnessed significant strides in our understanding of primate disease ecology. In this review, I briefly describe some key findings from phylogenetic comparative approaches, focusing on analyses of parasite richness that use the Global Mammal Parasite Database. While these studies have provided new answers to fundamental questions, new questions have arisen, including questions about the underlying epidemiological mechanisms that produce the broader phylogenetic patterns. I discuss two examples in which theoretical models have given us new traction on these comparative questions. First, drawing on findings of a positive association between range use intensity and the richness of helminth parasites, we developed a spatially explicit agent-based model to investigate the underlying drivers of this pattern. From this model, we are gaining deeper understanding of how range use intensity results in greater exposure to parasites, thus producing higher prevalence in the simulated populations-and, plausibly, higher parasite richness in comparative analyses. Second, I show how a model of disease spread on social networks provides solid theoretical foundations for understanding the effects of sociality and group size on parasitism across primate species. This study further revealed that larger social groups are more subdivided, which should slow the spread of infectious diseases. This effect could offset the increased disease risk expected in larger social groups, which has yet to receive strong empirical support in our comparative analyses. In addition to these examples, I discuss the need for more meta-analyses of individual-level phenomena documented in the field, and for greater linkage between theoretical modeling and field research.
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