The 82nd Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2013)

Lousy personalities: Aggression, testosterone, and ectoparasite dynamics in a population of wild brown mouse lemurs


1Department of Environmental Studies, Emory University, 2Department of Physical Anthropology, University of Texas, Austin, 3Department of Anthropology, University of Arizona, 4Department of Anthropology, Stony Brook University, 5Institute of Biotechnology, University of Helsinki

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Animal personality traits have the potential to influence exposure and susceptibility to parasites. Bold individuals may experience increased contact rates with conspecifics and aggressive behaviors which make them more vulnerable to parasites with direct transmission routes. To better understand whether bold individuals are at a higher risk of ectoparasite infestation than their shy conspecifics, we performed behavioral assays to qualitatively determine degrees of boldness and shyness, measured fecal testosterone levels, quantified louse infestations, and documented the exchange of lice between known individuals in a population of wild brown mouse lemurs (Microcebus rufus) in the eastern rainforests of Madagascar. We hypothesize that 1) bold individuals will have higher testosterone levels than shy individuals, 2) bold individuals will harbor more lice than shy individuals, and 3) bold individuals will play a larger role in spreading lice in the population than shy individuals. While we did find that bold individuals had the highest testosterone levels, we found no evidence to support the idea that bold individuals had more lice than shy individuals. However, when examining the patterns of louse exchange between individual lemurs, our results show that bold individuals act as superspreaders and are responsible for the widespread movement of lice in the population, while shy individuals act as supercollectors harboring higher louse infestations. Taken together, these results suggest that personality traits may underlie differences in host-parasite dynamics. Meanwhile, parasites also impact host condition, and thus may also play a role in the evolution of host personality traits such as boldness and shyness.

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