Global biodiversity loss and disease emergence are two of the most challenging issues confronting science and society. Recently, observed linkages between species-loss and vector-borne infections suggest that biodiversity may help reduce pathogenic infections in humans and wildlife, but the mechanisms underlying this relationship and its applicability to a broader range of pathogens have remained speculative. Here, we experimentally evaluated the effects of host community structure on transmission of the human pathogen, Schistosoma mansoni, which alternates between snail intermediate hosts and vertebrate definitive hosts. By manipulating parasite exposure and community diversity, we show that heterospecific communities cause a 25–50 per cent reduction in infection among snail hosts (Biomphalaria glabrata). Infected snails raised alongside non-host snails (Lymnaea or Helisoma sp.) also produced 60–80 per cent fewer cercariae, suggesting that diverse communities could reduce human infection risk. Because focal host density was held constant during experiments, decreases in transmission resulted entirely from diversity-mediated pathways. Finally, the decrease in infection in mixed-species communities led to an increase in reproductive output by hosts, representing a novel example of parasite-mediated facilitation. Our results underscore the significance of community structure on transmission of complex life-cycle pathogens, and we emphasize enhanced integration between ecological and parasitological research on the diversity–disease relationship
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