Parasite-infected sticklebacks increase the risk-taking behaviour of uninfected group members

Proc Biol Sci. 2018 Jun 27;285(1881):20180956. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2018.0956.


Trophically transmitted parasites frequently increase their hosts' risk-taking behaviour, to facilitate transmission to the next host. Whether such elevated risk-taking can spill over to uninfected group members is, however, unknown. To investigate this, we confronted groups of 6 three-spined sticklebacks, Gasterosteus aculeatus, containing 0, 2, 4 or 6 experimentally infected individuals with a simulated bird attack and studied their risk-taking behaviour. As a parasite, we used the tapeworm Schistocephalus solidus, which increases the risk-taking of infected sticklebacks, to facilitate transmission to its final host, most often piscivorous birds. Before the attack, infected and uninfected individuals did not differ in their risk-taking. However, after the attack, individuals in groups with only infected members showed lower escape responses and higher risk-taking than individuals from groups with only uninfected members. Importantly, uninfected individuals adjusted their risk-taking behaviour to the number of infected group members, taking more risk with an increasing number of infected group members. Infected individuals, however, did not adjust their risk-taking to the number of uninfected group members. Our results show that behavioural manipulation by parasites does not only affect the infected host, but also uninfected group members, shedding new light on the social dynamics involved in host-parasite interactions.

Keywords: Gasterosteus aculeatus; Schistocephalus solidus; behavioural manipulation; group behaviour; quorum decision; risk-taking behaviour.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cestoda / physiology
  • Cestode Infections / parasitology
  • Cestode Infections / veterinary
  • Fish Diseases / parasitology
  • Host-Parasite Interactions*
  • Risk-Taking*
  • Smegmamorpha*
  • Social Behavior*

Associated data

  • Dryad/10.5061/dryad.46j2nj6