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A hell lot of helminths

Mammal/gut parasite associations have been a major playground of disease ecology for decades. Yet, studying these associations is exposed to a major pitfall: classical morphological identification of gut parasites requires an enormous amount of time and expertise, both of which are limited resources. This difficulty hampers our ability to implement large comparative analyses, which were until recently only possible under the form of meta-analyses (e.g. using the excellent Global Mammal Parasite Database maintained by Charlie Nunn and friends). To move the field towards a less resource intensive and standardized description of parasite communities, we have investigated the use of metabarcoding to study gut parasite communities in 11 primate species - a study which took place within the framework of a research group funded by the German Research Council (the Sociality and Health in Primates research group). In the resulting article, published this day in Molecular Ecology Resources, we show how promising this kind of approach is. Using only a few samples per species we were for example able to identify many distinct parasites and to show that the communities they form do bring along some meaningful biological signal (e.g. more closely related hosts had more similar parasite communities). We will now implement this kind of tool to a much broader selection of primate species, with the aim to test some classical hypotheses about the interplay of sociality and parasitism. Read the full story there.

Illustration: Ernst Haeckel - Kunstformen der Natur (1904), plate 75: Platodes.

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