Modification of host social networks by manipulative parasites

In: Behaviour
Robert Poulin Department of Zoology, University of Otago, P.O. Box 56, Dunedin, New Zealand

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Social network models provide a powerful tool to estimate infection risk for individual hosts and track parasite transmission through host populations. Here, bringing together concepts from social network theory, animal personality, and parasite manipulation of host behaviour, I argue that not only are social networks shaping parasite transmission, but parasites in turn shape social networks through their effects on the behaviour of infected individuals. Firstly, I review five general categories of behaviour (mating behaviour, aggressiveness, activity levels, spatial distribution, and group formation) that are closely tied to social networks, and provide evidence that parasites can affect all of them. Secondly, I describe scenarios in which behaviour-altering parasites can modify either the role or position of individual hosts within their social network, or various structural properties (e.g., connectance, modularity) of the entire network. Experimental approaches allowing comparisons of social networks pre- versus post-infection are a promising avenue to explore the feedback loop between social networks and parasite infections.

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