Personality and parasites: sex-dependent associations between avian malaria infection and multiple behavioural traits
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- Dunn, J.C., Cole, E.F. & Quinn, J.L. Behav Ecol Sociobiol (2011) 65: 1459. doi:10.1007/s00265-011-1156-8
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The evolution and ecology of consistent behavioural variation, or personality, is currently the focus of much attention in natural populations. Associations between personality traits and parasite infections are increasingly being reported, but the extent to which multiple behavioural traits might be associated with parasitism at the same time is largely unknown. Here, we use a population of great tits, Parus major, to examine whether infection by avian malaria (Plasmodium and Leucocytozoon) is associated with three behavioural traits assayed under standardized conditions. All of these traits are of broad ecological significance and two of them are repeatable or heritable in our population. Here, we show weak correlations between some but not all of these behavioural traits, and sex-dependent associations between all three behavioural traits and parasite infection. Infected males showed increased problem-solving performance whereas infected females showed reduced performance; furthermore, uninfected females were four times more likely to solve problems than uninfected males. Infected females were more exploratory than uninfected females, but infection had no effect on males. Finally, infected males were more risk-averse than uninfected males but females were unaffected. Our results demonstrate the potential for complex interactions between consistent personality variation and parasite infection, though we discuss the difficulty of attributing causality in these associations. Accounting for complex parasite-behaviour associations may prove essential in understanding the evolutionary ecology of behavioural variation and the dynamics of host–parasite interactions.