4.8 Article

Toxoplasma gondii infections are associated with costly boldness toward felids in a wild host

Journal

NATURE COMMUNICATIONS
Volume 12, Issue 1, Pages -

Publisher

NATURE PORTFOLIO
DOI: 10.1038/s41467-021-24092-x

Keywords

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Funding

  1. NSF-BEACON center for the Study of Evolution in Action
  2. National Science Foundation [DBI-0939454]
  3. Morris Animal Foundation [D19ZO-411]
  4. NSF [IOS1755089, OISE1853934]

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Toxoplasma gondii infections in hyena cubs lead to them approaching lions more closely and experiencing higher rates of lion mortality, suggesting the possibility of parasite manipulation of host behavior for transmission to feline hosts. Both scenarios, where the behavior is an extended phenotype of the parasite or where the parasite has not undergone selection for behavior manipulation, have important implications for T. gondii's effects on host behavior and fitness in the wild.
Toxoplasma gondii is hypothesized to manipulate the behavior of warm-blooded hosts to promote trophic transmission into the parasite's definitive feline hosts. A key prediction of this hypothesis is that T. gondii infections of non-feline hosts are associated with costly behavior toward T. gondii's definitive hosts; however, this effect has not been documented in any of the parasite's diverse wild hosts during naturally occurring interactions with felines. Here, three decades of field observations reveal that T. gondii-infected hyena cubs approach lions more closely than uninfected peers and have higher rates of lion mortality. We discuss these results in light of 1) the possibility that hyena boldness represents an extended phenotype of the parasite, and 2) alternative scenarios in which T. gondii has not undergone selection to manipulate behavior in host hyenas. Both cases remain plausible and have important ramifications for T. gondii's impacts on host behavior and fitness in the wild. The parasite causing toxoplasmosis can manipulate prey to behave in ways that promote transmission to the parasite's definitive feline hosts. The first study consistent with this extended phenotype in the wild finds that infected hyena cubs approach lions more closely than uninfected peers and have higher rates of lion mortality.

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