Trade-offs between sociality and gastrointestinal parasite infection in the context of a natural disaster

Melissa A. Pavez-Fox*, Carla M. Escabi-Ruiz, Jordan D.A. Hart, Josue E. Negron-Del Valle, Daniel Phillips, Angelina Ruiz-Lambides, Samuel E. Bauman, Melween I. Martinez, Michael J. Montague, Michael L. Platt, James P. Higham, Noah Snyder-Mackler, Lauren J.N. Brent

*Corresponding author for this work

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Parasites and infectious diseases constitute important challenges particularly for group-living animals. Social contact and shared space can both increase parasite transmission risk, while individual differences in social capital can help prevent infections. For example, high social status individuals and those with more or stronger affiliative partnerships may have better immunity and, thus, lower parasitic burden. To test for health trade-offs in the costs and benefits of sociality, we quantified how parasitic load varied with an individual's social status, as well as with their affiliative relationships with weakly and strongly bonded partners, in a free-ranging population of rhesus macaques, Macaca mulatta. We found that high status was associated with a lower risk of protozoa infection at older ages compared to younger and low-status animals. Social resources can also be protective against infection under environmentally challenging situations, such as natural disasters. Using cross-sectional data, we additionally examined the impact of a major hurricane on the sociality - parasite relationship in this system and found that the hurricane influenced the prevalence of specific parasites independent of sociality. Overall, our study adds to the growing evidence for social status as a strong predictor of infection risk and highlights how extreme environmental events could shape vulnerability and resistance to infection.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)147-161
Number of pages15
JournalAnimal Behaviour
Early online date17 Apr 2024
Publication statusPublished - May 2024


  • Hurricane
  • Infection
  • Sociality
  • Social network
  • Rhesus macque


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