The sociality-health-fitness nexus: synthesis, conclusions and future directions

Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2015 May 26;370(1669):20140115. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2014.0115.


This theme issue has highlighted the links between sociality, health and fitness in a broad range of organisms, and with approaches that include field and captive studies of animals, comparative and meta-analyses, theoretical modelling and clinical and psychological studies of humans. In this concluding chapter, we synthesize the results of these diverse studies into some of the key concepts discussed in this issue, focusing on risks of infectious disease through social contact, the effects of competition in groups on susceptibility to disease, and the integration of sociality into research on life-history trade-offs. Interestingly, the studies in this issue both support pre-existing hypotheses, and in other ways challenge those hypotheses. We focus on unexpected results, including a lack of association between ectoparasites and fitness and weak results from a meta-analysis of the links between dominance rank and immune function, and place these results in a broader context. We also review relevant topics that were not covered fully in this theme issue, including self-medication and sickness behaviours, society-level defences against infectious disease, sexual selection, evolutionary medicine, implications for conservation biology and selective pressures on parasite traits. We conclude by identifying general open questions to stimulate and guide future research on the links between sociality, health and fitness.

Keywords: evolutionary medicine; fitness; health; infectious disease; social contact; sociality.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution
  • Communicable Diseases / etiology
  • Disease Susceptibility
  • Female
  • Genetic Fitness
  • Health Status
  • Host-Parasite Interactions
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Models, Biological
  • Sex Preselection
  • Sexually Transmitted Diseases / etiology
  • Social Behavior*