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

Dana M. Hawley, Amanda K. Gibson, Andrea K. Townsend, Meggan E. Craft, Jessica F. Stephenson

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)274-288
Number of pages15
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the National Science Foundation (D.M.H., grant numbers IOS-1754872, IOS-1755051; M.E.C., grant numbers DEB-1654609, DEB-2030509).

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © The Author(s), 2020. Published by Cambridge University Press.

Copyright 2021 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Avoidance behaviour
  • behavioural ecology
  • disease ecology
  • epidemiology
  • evolutionary parasitology
  • host-parasite coevolution
  • parasite transmission
  • parasite-induced behavioural plasticity
  • sickness behaviour
  • social behaviour

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article

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