Living with relatives can be highly beneficial, enhancing reproduction and survival. High relatedness can, however, increase susceptibility to pathogens. Here, we examine whether the benefits of living with relatives offset the harm caused by pathogens, and if this depends on whether species typically live with kin. Using comparative meta-analysis of plants, animals, and a bacterium (nspecies = 56), we show that high within-group relatedness increases mortality when pathogens are present. In contrast, mortality decreased with relatedness when pathogens were rare, particularly in species that live with kin. Furthermore, across groups variation in mortality was lower when relatedness was high, but abundances of pathogens were more variable. The effects of within-group relatedness were only evident when pathogens were experimentally manipulated, suggesting that the harm caused by pathogens is masked by the benefits of living with relatives in nature. These results highlight the importance of kin selection for understanding disease spread in natural populations.
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