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Data from: Meta-analysis of the effects of insect pathogens: Implications for plant reproduction

Cite this dataset

Recart, Wilnelia et al. (2023). Data from: Meta-analysis of the effects of insect pathogens: Implications for plant reproduction [Dataset]. Dryad.


Despite extensive work on both insect disease and plant reproduction, there is little research on the intersection of the two. Insect-infecting pathogens could disrupt the pollination process by affecting pollinator population density or traits. Pathogens may also infect insect herbivores and change herbivory, potentially altering resource allocation to plant reproduction. We conducted a meta-analysis to 1) summarize the literature on the effects of pathogens on insect pollinators and herbivores and 2) quantify the extent to which pathogens affect insect traits, with potential repercussions for plant reproduction. We found 39 articles that fit our criteria for inclusion, extracting 218 measures of insect traits for 21 different insect species exposed to 25 different pathogens. We detected a negative effect of pathogen exposure on insect traits, which varied by host function: pathogens had a significant negative effect on insects that were herbivores or carried multiple functions but not on insects that solely functioned as pollinators. Particular pathogen types were  heavily studied in certain insect orders, with 7 of 11 viral pathogen studies conducted in Lepidoptera and 5 of 9 fungal pathogen studies conducted in Hymenoptera. Our results suggest that most studies have focused on a small set of host–pathogen pairs. To understand the implications for plant reproduction, future work is needed to directly measure the effects of pathogens on pollinator effectiveness.


Dataset contains 218 comparisons from 39 published articles used in a metaanalysis on how pathogen exposure affects traits of insect pollinators and herbivores.

We used the Web of Science database to search for relevant bodies of literature using the following search criteria:

Topic [TS]=(lepidoptera* OR bees OR bee OR fly OR butterfl* OR moth OR hymenopter* OR Bombus OR Apis OR bumble* OR aphid* OR caterpillar* OR larva* OR arthropod* OR insect* OR pollinati* OR herbivor* OR orthoptera OR spider* OR hemiptera OR coleoptera OR beetle) AND TS=(trait* OR morpholo* OR proboscis OR foraging OR learn* OR abundance OR sub-lethal OR sublethal) AND Author Keywords [AK]=(disease* OR viru* OR pathogen* OR parasite* OR infect*) AND Title [TI]=(disease* OR viru* OR pathogen* OR parasite* OR infect*).

These search criteria yielded 1879 hits from scientific literature published from 1997 to July 9, 2020. A second search was conducted to obtain articles previous to 1997, which yielded 1181 papers (range 1989–1996). Scientific literature considered was published in English and included articles, book chapters, reviews, published conference proceedings or abstracts, dissertations, and theses. From this search, we employed the following criteria of inclusion:

1) Insect species must belong to an insect order with known species that are herbivores or pollinators.

2) The article contained quantitative data on the effects of pathogens, specifically sample size, mean, and some measure of variability (e.g., standard deviation or standard error) on insect behavior, demography, physiology, or morphology. This data needed to be collected for both uninfected and infected insects. Infected insects could be exposed to any dose of the pathogen. Observational studies were included if they measured traits of both naturally infected and uninfected insects.

3) Only pathogens for which insects are the primary host were considered. Plant or vertebrate diseases for which insects act as the disease vector were excluded.

4) If multiple pathogen species were studied, data must have been collected on each pathogen species separately. Coinfection data were excluded.

The following data were extracted from each research article: (1) insect taxonomy, (2) pathogen taxonomy, (3) host function (pollinator, herbivore, or 'multi-function'), (4) infected life stage, (5) effect type and description, (6) life stage of the observed effect, (7) experiment type (observational or manipulative) and location (field or lab), (8) pathogen treatment and dose, and (9) quantitative data from which to calculate effect size (sample size, mean, and standard deviation or standard error). Extracted data (1) through (8) were used to document how different variables could play a role in the sublethal effects of pathogens on the traits of insect pollinators or herbivores.

See attached metadata file (metadata.csv) for variable names and detailed descriptions of each of the variables.

Usage notes

Data are in a .csv file that can be opened in Excel or imported into statistical software such as R. The last two columns of the dataset (effect size and corresponding sampling variance) were produced by the rma function in the R package metafor.


National Science Foundation, Award: 2010845