Fitness impacts of tapeworm parasitism on wild gelada monkeys at Guassa, Ethiopia

Am J Primatol. 2015 May;77(5):579-94. doi: 10.1002/ajp.22379. Epub 2015 Feb 26.


Parasitism is expected to impact host morbidity or mortality, although the fitness costs of parasitism have rarely been quantified for wildlife hosts. Tapeworms in the genus Taenia exploit a variety of vertebrates, including livestock, humans, and geladas (Theropithecus gelada), monkeys endemic to the alpine grasslands of Ethiopia. Despite Taenia's adverse societal and economic impacts, we know little about the prevalence of disease associated with Taenia infection in wildlife or the impacts of this disease on host health, mortality and reproduction. We monitored geladas at Guassa, Ethiopia over a continuous 6½ year period for external evidence (cysts or coenuri) of Taenia-associated disease (coenurosis) and evaluated the impact of coenurosis on host survival and reproduction. We also identified (through genetic and histological analyses) the tapeworms causing coenurosis in wild geladas at Guassa as Taenia serialis. Nearly 1/3 of adult geladas at Guassa possessed ≥1 coenurus at some point in the study. Coenurosis adversely impacted gelada survival and reproduction at Guassa and this impact spanned two generations: adults with coenuri suffered higher mortality than members of their sex without coenuri and offspring of females with coenuri also suffered higher mortality. Coenurosis also negatively affected adult reproduction, lengthening interbirth intervals and reducing the likelihood that males successfully assumed reproductive control over units of females. Our study provides the first empirical evidence that coenurosis increases mortality and reduces fertility in wild nonhuman primate hosts. Our research highlights the value of longitudinal monitoring of individually recognized animals in natural populations for advancing knowledge of parasite-host evolutionary dynamics and offering clues to the etiology and control of infectious disease.

Keywords: mortality; parasites; reproduction; wildlife disease ecology.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Ethiopia / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Fertility
  • Male
  • Monkey Diseases / epidemiology
  • Monkey Diseases / parasitology*
  • Sexual Behavior, Animal
  • Taenia / genetics
  • Taenia / isolation & purification
  • Taeniasis / epidemiology
  • Taeniasis / parasitology
  • Taeniasis / veterinary*
  • Theropithecus / parasitology*