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Bidirectional interactions between host social behaviour and parasites arise through ecological and evolutionary processes

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 October 2020

Dana M. Hawley*
Department of Biological Sciences, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA24061, USA
Amanda K. Gibson
Department of Biology, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA22903, USA
Andrea K. Townsend
Department of Biology, Hamilton College, Clinton, NY13323, USA
Meggan E. Craft
Department of Veterinary Population Medicine and Department of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior, University of Minnesota, St Paul, MN55108, USA
Jessica F. Stephenson
Department of Biological Sciences, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA15260, USA
Author for correspondence: Dana M. Hawley, E-mail:


An animal's social behaviour both influences and changes in response to its parasites. Here we consider these bidirectional links between host social behaviours and parasite infection, both those that occur from ecological vs evolutionary processes. First, we review how social behaviours of individuals and groups influence ecological patterns of parasite transmission. We then discuss how parasite infection, in turn, can alter host social interactions by changing the behaviour of both infected and uninfected individuals. Together, these ecological feedbacks between social behaviour and parasite infection can result in important epidemiological consequences. Next, we consider the ways in which host social behaviours evolve in response to parasites, highlighting constraints that arise from the need for hosts to maintain benefits of sociality while minimizing fitness costs of parasites. Finally, we consider how host social behaviours shape the population genetic structure of parasites and the evolution of key parasite traits, such as virulence. Overall, these bidirectional relationships between host social behaviours and parasites are an important yet often underappreciated component of population-level disease dynamics and host–parasite coevolution.

Review Article
Copyright © The Author(s), 2020. Published by Cambridge University Press

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