Phylogeny and geography predict pathogen community similarity in wild primates and humans

T. Jonathan Davies, Amy B. Pedersen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In natural systems, host species are often co-infected by multiple pathogen species, and recent work has suggested that many pathogens can infect a wide range of host species. An important question therefore is what determines the host range of a pathogen and the community of pathogens found within a given host species. Using primates as a model, we show that infectious diseases are more often shared between species that are closely related and inhabit the same geographical region. We find that host relatedness is the best overall predictor of whether two host species share the same pathogens. A higher frequency of pathogen host shifts between close relatives or inheritance of pathogens from a common ancestor may explain this result. For viruses, geographical overlap among neighbouring primate hosts is more important in determining host range. We suggest this is because rapid evolution within viral lineages allows host jumps across larger evolutionary distances. We also show that the phylogenetic pattern of pathogen sharing with humans is the same as that between wild primates. For humans, this means we share a higher proportion of pathogens with the great apes, including chimpanzees and gorillas, because these species are our closest relatives.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1695-1701
Number of pages7
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B-Biological Sciences
Issue number1643
Publication statusPublished - 22 Jul 2008


  • host specificity
  • transmission mode
  • phylogeny
  • geographical overlap
  • parasites
  • pathogen taxonomy

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