Selective defecation and selective foraging are two potential antiparasite behaviors used by grazing ungulates to reduce infection by fecal-oral transmitted parasites. While there is some evidence that domestic species use these strategies, less is known about the occurrence and efficacy of these behaviors in wild ungulates. In this study, I examined whether wild antelope use selective defecation and selective foraging strategies to reduce exposure to gastrointestinal nematode parasites. By quantifying parasite levels in the environment in relation to the defecation patterns of three species, dik-dik (Madoqua kirkii), Grant's gazelle (Gazella granti), and impala (Aepyceros melampus), I found that nematode larval concentrations in pasture were higher in the vicinity of clusters of feces (dung middens) compared to single fecal pellet groups or dung-free areas. In addition, experimental feeding trials in free-ranging dik-dik showed that individuals selectively avoided feeding near concentrations of feces. Given that increased parasite contamination was found in the immediate vicinity of fecal clusters, fecal avoidance could help reduce host consumption of parasites and may therefore be an effective antiparasite behavior for certain species. On the other hand, while the concentration of parasite larvae in the vicinity of middens coupled with host avoidance of these areas during grazing could reduce host contact with parasites, results showing a positive correlation between the number of middens in a habitat and larval abundance at control sites suggest that dung middens might increase and not decrease overall host exposure to parasites. If this is the case, dung midden formation may not be a viable antiparasite strategy.
Additional publication details
Selective defecation and selective foraging: Antiparasite behavior in wild ungulates?