Patterns of host specificity and transmission among parasites of wild primates

Amy B. Pedersen, Sonia Altizer, Mary Poss, Andrew A. Cunningham, Charles L. Nunn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

127 Scopus citations


Multihost parasites have been implicated in the emergence of new diseases in humans and wildlife, yet little is known about factors that influence the host range of parasites in natural populations. We used a comprehensive data set of 415 micro- and macroparasites reported from 119 wild primate hosts to investigate broad patterns of host specificity. The majority (68%) of primate parasites were reported to infect multiple host species, including animals from multiple families or orders. This pattern corresponds to previous studies of parasites found in humans and domesticated animals. Within three parasite groups (viruses, protozoans and helminths), we examined parasite taxonomy and transmission strategy in relation to measures of host specificity. Relative to other parasite groups, helminths were associated with the greatest levels of host specificity, whereas most viruses were reported to infect hosts from multiple families or orders. Highly significant associations between the degree of host specificity and transmission strategy arose within each parasite group, but not always in the same direction, suggesting that unique constraints influence the host range of parasites within each taxonomic group. Finally characteristics of over 100 parasite species shared between wild primates and humans, including those recognised as emerging in humans, revealed that most of these shared parasites were reported from multiple host orders. Furthermore, nearly all viruses that were reported to infect both humans and non-human primates were classified as emerging in humans.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)647-657
Number of pages11
JournalInternational Journal for Parasitology
Issue number6
StatePublished - May 2005

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Parasitology
  • Infectious Diseases


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