Infectious diseases and extinction risk in wild mammals

Amy B. Pedersen, Kate E. Jones, Charles L. Nunn, Sonia Altizer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Parasite-driven declines in wildlife have become increasingly common and can pose significant risks to natural populations. We used the IUCN Red List of Threatened and Endangered Species and compiled data on hosts threatened by infectious disease and their parasites to better understand the role of infectious disease in contemporary host extinctions. The majority of mammal species considered threatened by parasites were either carnivores or artiodactyls, two clades that include the majority of domesticated animals. Parasites affecting host threat status were predominantly viruses and bacteria that infect a wide range of host species, including domesticated animals. Counter to our predictions, parasites transmitted by close contact were more likely to cause extinction risk than those transmitted by other routes. Mammal species threatened by parasites were not better studied for infectious diseases than other threatened mammals and did not have more parasites or differ in four key traits demonstrated to affect parasite species richness in other comparative studies. Our findings underscore the need for better information concerning the distribution and impacts of infectious diseases in populations of endangered mammals. In addition, our results suggest that evolutionary similarity to domesticated animals may be a key factor associated with parasite-mediated declines, thus, efforts to limit contact between domesticated hosts and wildlife could reduce extinction risk.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1269-1279
Number of pages11
JournalConservation biology
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2007


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