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The ecological and evolutionary consequences of parasitic infections through alterations of host behaviour

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There is a wealth of literature documenting the presence of parasitic infections throughout a wide range of invertebrate and vertebrate species. In many cases infections are considered to be purely parasitic – but in others the distinction between parasitic and mutually beneficial relationships is not clear ...

There is a wealth of literature documenting the presence of parasitic infections throughout a wide range of invertebrate and vertebrate species. In many cases infections are considered to be purely parasitic – but in others the distinction between parasitic and mutually beneficial relationships is not clear at all. There may also be instances where a particular infection can play both the former and the latter roles within a given host and setting. An example of this is the presence of vertically acquired endosymbiotic bacteria in insects, which act as selfish genetic elements under most circumstances but can also protect against particular viral infections in the host.

In many cases the interaction between host and parasite is considered from the perspective of determining degree of pathogenicity (or mutualism) in terms of the effects on reproductive fitness and longevity. Fewer studies have focussed on determining the effects on host behaviours but studies of spiders have shown, for example, that long-distance dispersal is influenced by the presence of endosymbionts. As a result of this predictions can be made about the influence of these microbes on genetic connectivity amongst populations and the potential for localised adaptation within the wider meta-population. Similarly, studies of ant/parasite interactions also predict increased dispersal above a certain parasite density, which has comparable implications for gene flow.

We wish to develop the theme of whether parasitic infections (invertebrate or vertebrate hosts; individuals or populations; single or multiple infections with prokaryote or eukaryote parasites) have a significant effect on a wide range of host behaviours, using empirical and theoretical data, over a large range of spatial scales and geographical ranges. In particular, we wish to explore what the broader ecological and evolutionary consequences are of altered behaviour driven by parasites.


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