The mechanisms underlying parasite-altered host behavior and fitness remain largely unanswered. The purpose of this review is to provide a perspective that has not been fully incorporated into the debate on how parasites manipulate their hosts. We argue that performance capacity is an important target of parasitic manipulation, and we aim to integrate the study of performance with that of parasitic manipulations of host behavior and fitness. We performed a meta-analysis from the published literature of 101 measures of the effect of parasites on host performance capacity to address the following questions. (1) Do parasites exert an important effect on host performance capacity? (2) Is that effect routinely to decrease or enhance performance capacity? And, (3) what factors explain variation in the effect sizes that have been quantified? Although negligible–small effect sizes were detected in 40/101 measures, host performance capacity was overall affected by parasitic infection, with a negative direction and medium–large magnitude in 58/101 measures and an increase in performance capacity in 3/101 measures. Host age, type of host performance, the host tissue infected by the parasite, and whether the study was experimental or based on natural infections each explained a significant amount of the variation in effect size. The significance of each factor is briefly discussed in light of the potential adaptive character of host manipulations by parasites.

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