Host centrality in food web networks determines parasite diversity

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Background: Parasites significantly alter topological metrics describing food web structure, yet few studies have explored the relationship between food web topology and parasite diversity. Methods/Principal Findings: This study uses quantitative metrics describing network structure to investigate the relationship between the topology of the host food web and parasite diversity. Food webs were constructed for four restored brackish marshes that vary in species diversity, time post restoration and levels of parasitism. Our results show that the topology of the food web in each brackish marsh is highly nested, with clusters of generalists forming a distinct modular structure. The most consistent predictors of parasite diversity within a host were: trophic generality, and eigenvector centrality. These metrics indicate that parasites preferentially colonise host species that are highly connected, and within modules of tightly interacting species in the food web network. Conclusions/Significance: These results suggest that highly connected free-living species within the food web may represent stable trophic relationships that allow for the persistence of complex parasite life cycles. Our data demonstrate that the structure of host food webs can have a significant effect on the establishment of parasites, and on the potential for evolution of complex parasite life cycles. © 2011 Anderson, Sukhdeo.




Anderson, T. K., & Sukhdeo, M. V. K. (2011). Host centrality in food web networks determines parasite diversity. PLoS ONE, 6(10).

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