Life history strategy influences parasite responses to habitat fragmentation

Götz Froeschke, Luther van der Mescht, Melodie McGeoch, Sonja Matthee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

44 Scopus citations


Anthropogenic habitat use is a major threat to biodiversity and is known to increase the abundance of generalist host species such as rodents, which are regarded as potential disease carriers. Parasites have an intimate relationship with their host and the surrounding environment and it is expected that habitat fragmentation will affect parasite infestation levels. We investigated the effect of habitat fragmentation on the ecto- and endoparasitic burdens of a broad niche small mammal, Rhabdomys pumilio, in the Western Cape Province, South Africa. Our aim was to look at the effects of fragmentation on different parasite species with diverse life history characteristics and to determine whether general patterns can be found. Sampling took place within pristine lowland (Fynbos/Renosterveld) areas and at fragmented sites surrounded and isolated by agricultural activities. All arthropod ectoparasites and available gastrointestinal endoparasites were identified. We used conditional autoregressive models to investigate the effects of habitat fragmentation on parasite species richness and abundance of all recovered parasites. Host density and body size were larger in the fragments. Combined ecto- as well as combined endoparasite taxa showed higher parasite species richness in fragmented sites. Parasite abundance was generally higher in the case of R. pumilio individuals in fragmented habitats but it appears that parasites that are more permanently associated with the host's body and those that are host-specific show the opposite trend. Parasite life history is an important factor that needs to be considered when predicting the effects of habitat fragmentation on parasite and pathogen transmission.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1109-1118
Number of pages10
JournalInternational Journal for Parasitology
Issue number14
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Disease
  • Habitat fragmentation
  • Life history
  • Parasites
  • Small mammals
  • South Africa

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Parasitology
  • Infectious Diseases


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