Parasites & Host Behavior, with Special Emphasis on Social Systems Evolution & Behavioral Immunity

Aims in a nutshell
  • test the relationship between parasitism and host fitness variables

  • investigate behavioral mechanisms of parasite avoidance

  • use network analysis tools to characterize social structure in groups and relate with mechanisms of parasite transmission

  • use models to explore evolutionary trade-offs in sociality with respect to competing pressures like information flow and infectious disease spread

Collaborating institutions
  • CNRS – MNHN – Paris Diderot UMR7206 Eco-anthropologie et Ethnobiologie

  • University of Strasbourg

Project Summary

The idea that parasites pose a selection pressure in the evolution of free-living species is not new, nor is the idea that parasites might factor into the evolution of host social systems. In his famous essay appearing in the Annual Reviews of Ecology and Systematics, Richard Alexander (1974) wrote that there may be no universal benefits to group living, but there are universal costs, one of which being the heightened risk of infectious disease. Later, William Freeland (1976, Biotropica; 1979, Ecology) suggested that primate groups act as biological islands of infection (colonization) for parasites, and thereby brought the concepts of island biogeography into the study of host-parasite ecology. Flash forward a few decades and, while there is no shortage of studies now attempting to link sociality with infectious disease, we still lack concrete evidence in most cases demonstrating a role for parasites in host social systems evolution. That said, compelling studies now appear regularly in this field of research, for example in relation to organizational immunity - a form of behavioral immunity whereby elements of the social structure exist to protect individuals from exposure to infection - and the role of social networks in disease or parasite transmission.

It is from this context that work in my lab has sprung. With students and collaborators, we have begun trying to examine links between social structure and parasitism, mainly using primates as a model system. Empirical aspects of this work rely on field data describing the social netwroks of primates and variation in parasitism across individuals. Theoretical aspects of the work involve simulation and/or agent-based modeling - themselves drawing on empirical networks and infectious disaese dynamics - to predict the spread of infection through groups and how this might change under varying conditions of social structure and the environment. Long-term work with Japanese macaques and their gastrointestinal helminth parasites provides a useful platform for this research, which has recently been combined with deworming experiements in a free-living population to better undertstand the impacts of infection on host individuals and populations. 

Key Publications
  • Sarabian C, Belais R, MacIntosh AJJ (2018) Feeding decisions under contamination risk in bonobos. Phil Trans B. DOI: 10.1098/rstb.2017.0195

  • Romano V, Shen M, Pansanel J, MacIntosh AJJ, Sueur C (2018) Social transmission in networks: global efficiency peaks with intermediate levels of modularity. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 72:154

  • Duboscq J, Romano V, Sueur C, MacIntosh AJJ (2016) Scratch that itch: revisiting links between self-directed behaviour and parasitological, social and environmental factors in a free-ranging primate. Royal Society Open Science 3:160571

  • Romano V, Duboscq J, Sueur C, MacIntosh AJJ (2016) Modelling infection transmission in primate networks to predict centrality-based risk. Am J Primatol 78:767–779

  • Duboscq J, Romano V, Sueur C, MacIntosh AJJ (2016) Network centrality and seasonality interact to predict lice load in a social primate. Sci Rep 6:22095

  • Sarabian C, MacIntosh AJJ (2015) Hygienic tendencies correlate with low geohelminth infection in free-ranging macaques. Biology Letters 11:20150757

  • MacIntosh AJJ, Jacobs A, Garcia C, Shimizu K, Mouri K, Huffman MA, Hernandez AD (2012) Monkeys in the middle: parasite transmission through the social network of a wild primate. PLoS one 7:e51144

Funded by:



© 2020 by Andrew MacIntosh, KUPRI