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Dataset from Host density predicts the probability of parasitism by avian brood parasites

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posted on 21.01.2019 by Iliana Medina, Naomi Langmore
The spatial distribution of hosts can be a determining factor in the reproductive success of parasites. Highly aggregated hosts may offer more opportunities for reproduction but can have better defences than isolated hosts. Here we connect macro- and micro-evolutionary processes to understand the link between host density and parasitism, using avian brood parasites as a model system. We analyse data across more than 200 host species using phylogenetic comparative analyses and quantify parasitism rate and host reproductive success in relation to spatial distribution using field data collected on one host species over 6 years. Our comparative analysis reveals that hosts occurring at intermediate densities are more likely to be parasitized than colonial or widely dispersed hosts. Correspondingly, our intraspecific field data show that individuals living at moderate densities experience higher parasitism rates than individuals at either low or high densities. Moreover, we show for the first time that the effect of host density on host reproductive success varies according to the intensity of parasitism; hosts have greater reproductive success when living at high densities if parasitism rates are high, but fare better at low densities when parasitism rates are low. We provide the first evidence of the trade-off between host density and parasitism at both macro- and micro-evolutionary scales in brood parasites.This article is part of the theme issue ‘The coevolutionary biology of brood parasitism: from mechanism to pattern’.

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