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The Problem of Auto-Correlation in Parasitology

PLoS Pathogens
Public Library of Science
Publication Date
DOI: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1002590
  • Opinion
  • Biology
  • Ecology
  • Evolutionary Biology
  • Evolutionary Ecology
  • Evolutionary Immunology
  • Evolutionary Processes
  • Immunology
  • Immune Response
  • Microbiology
  • Applied Microbiology
  • Bacterial Pathogens
  • Host-Pathogen Interaction
  • Immunity
  • Medical Microbiology
  • Microbial Ecology
  • Microbial Evolution
  • Microbial Pathogens
  • Parasitology
  • Pathogenesis
  • Plant Microbiology
  • Protozoology
  • Virology
  • Zoology
  • Medicine
  • Epidemiology
  • Infectious Diseases
  • Veterinary Science
  • Veterinary Diseases
  • Veterinary Epidemiology
  • Veterinary Microbiology
  • Veterinary Pathology
  • Biology
  • Logic


Explaining the contribution of host and pathogen factors in driving infection dynamics is a major ambition in parasitology. There is increasing recognition that analyses based on single summary measures of an infection (e.g., peak parasitaemia) do not adequately capture infection dynamics and so, the appropriate use of statistical techniques to analyse dynamics is necessary to understand infections and, ultimately, control parasites. However, the complexities of within-host environments mean that tracking and analysing pathogen dynamics within infections and among hosts poses considerable statistical challenges. Simple statistical models make assumptions that will rarely be satisfied in data collected on host and parasite parameters. In particular, model residuals (unexplained variance in the data) should not be correlated in time or space. Here we demonstrate how failure to account for such correlations can result in incorrect biological inference from statistical analysis. We then show how mixed effects models can be used as a powerful tool to analyse such repeated measures data in the hope that this will encourage better statistical practices in parasitology.

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