Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 65, Issue 7, pp 1459–1471

Personality and parasites: sex-dependent associations between avian malaria infection and multiple behavioural traits

Original Paper

DOI: 10.1007/s00265-011-1156-8

Cite this article as:
Dunn, J.C., Cole, E.F. & Quinn, J.L. Behav Ecol Sociobiol (2011) 65: 1459. doi:10.1007/s00265-011-1156-8


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.


Risk-taking behaviourMalariaPlasmodiumLeucocytozoonProblem-solving performanceExploratory behaviour

Supplementary material

265_2011_1156_MOESM1_ESM.doc (76 kb)
Appendix 1Full model results from general linear models analysing associations between parasite infection (by either parasite family, Plasmodium spp. only, or Haemoproteus spp. only) and each of (a) problem-solving performance (PSP), (b) exploration behaviour (EB) and (c) startle response (SR). Estimates ± 1 SE are presented for all terms remaining in the minimum adequate model (MAM); terms considered to significantly influence the response variable are highlighted. Statistics presented for non-significant terms are from model comparisons using either likelihood ratio tests (binomial) or F tests (Gaussian), depending on the error distribution of the model. (DOC 76 kb)
265_2011_1156_MOESM2_ESM.doc (32 kb)
Appendix 2Results from general linear models testing for any effect of natal area or capture site on the behavioural traits measured and on levels of parasitism. Terms in bold were included in the relevant model to control for their effects on the response variable. (DOC 31 kb)

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute for Integrative and Comparative BiologyUniversity of LeedsLeedsUK
  2. 2.Edward Grey Institute, Department of ZoologyUniversity of OxfordOxfordUK
  3. 3.RSPBThe LodgeBedfordshireUK