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Epidemiological networks are commonly used to explore dynamics of parasite transmission among individuals in a population of a given host species. However, many parasites infect multiple host species, and thus multi-host networks may offer a better framework for investigating parasite dynamics. We investigated the factors that influence parasite sharing – and thus potential transmission pathways – among rodent hosts in Southeast Asia. We focused on differences between networks of a single host species and networks that involve multiple host species. In host-parasite networks, modularity (the extent to which the network is divided to subgroups composed of individuals that interact more among themselves than with individuals outside the subgroup) was higher in the multi-species than in the single-species networks. This suggests that phylogeny affects patterns of parasite sharing, which was confirmed in analyses showing that it predicted affiliation of individuals to modules. We then constructed “potential transmission networks” based on the host-parasite networks, in which edges depict the number of parasites shared between a pair of individuals. The centrality of individuals in these networks differed between multi- and single-species networks, with species identity and individual characteristics influencing their position in the networks. Simulations further revealed that parasite dynamics differed between multi- and single-species networks. We conclude that multi-host networks based on parasite sharing can provide new insights into the potential for transmission among hosts in an ecological community. In addition, the factors that determine the nature of parasite sharing (i.e. structure of the host-parasite network) may impact transmission patterns.
This version is currently in review in PLOS ONE. We have changed the way we calculate edge weights in transmission-potential networks and improved the analysis of simulations of parasite dynamics.