I examined associations between several components of host social organization, including group size and gregariousness, group stability, territoriality and social class, and gastrointestinal parasite load in African bovids. At an intraspecific level, group size was positively correlated with parasite prevalence, but only when the parasite was relatively host specific and only among host species living in stable groups. Social class was also an important predictor of infection rates. Among gazelles, territorial males had higher parasite intensities than did either bachelor males or females and juveniles, suggesting that highly territorial individuals may be either more exposed or more susceptible to parasites. Associations among territoriality, grouping, and parasitism were also found across taxa. Territorial host genera were more likely to be infected with strongyle nematodes than were nonterritorial hosts, and gregarious hosts were more infected than were solitary hosts. Analyses also revealed that gregariousness and territoriality had an interactive effect on individual parasite richness, whereby hosts with both traits harbored significantly more parasite groups than did hosts with only one or neither trait. Overall, study results indicate that multiple features of host social behavior influence infection risk and suggest that synergism between traits also has important effects on host parasite load.
Additional publication details
Host social behavior and parasitic infection: A multifactorial approach