Parasitism and the tradeoffs of social grouping: The role of parasite transmission mode

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Lauren Elizabeth Nadler , Jolle W Jolles, Sandra Ann Binning, Jeremy De Bonville, Paolo Domenici, Shaun S Killen, Matthew Silk 


Animals form social groups to gain benefits to numerous fitness-enhancing processes, such as foraging, defense, and energy expenditure. While social grouping can increase parasite exposure, it can also serve as a defensive mechanism against parasites (defined broadly here as organisms with obligate, persistent, and harmful consumer associations with a host). Here, we present a conceptual framework that explores how host sociability affects parasite infection risk in the context of parasite life history, arguing that the positive or negative impact of a social lifestyle on infection risk is strongly linked to the parasite’s transmission mode. This framework focuses on common, non-mutually exclusive differences in parasite transmission: direct vs. indirect, density- vs. frequency-dependent, and simple vs. complex life cycles. We then use this framework to discuss the mechanisms for active parasite avoidance, passive effects of infection-induced phenotypes, and their impacts on host social networks, as well as the additional factors that can modulate these dynamics (e.g., parasite virulence, infection intensity, co-infection by multiple parasites, and environmental factors). The goal of this broad, comparative approach is to provide researchers from multiple disciplines with a unified framework to better understand the relationship between social grouping and host-parasite interactions across diverse systems.



Life Sciences


Collective behavior, disease ecology, ecology of fear, Epidemiology, landscape of disgust, optimal group size, parasitism, sociability, transmission dynamics


Published: 2024-01-25 03:51

Last Updated: 2024-03-07 05:48

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CC BY Attribution 4.0 International

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