Network structure and parasite transmission in a group living lizard, the gidgee skink, Egernia stokesii
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- Godfrey, S.S., Bull, C.M., James, R. et al. Behav Ecol Sociobiol (2009) 63: 1045. doi:10.1007/s00265-009-0730-9
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Gidgee skinks (Egernia stokesii) form large social aggregations in rocky outcrops across the Flinders Ranges in South Australia. Group members share refuges (rock crevices), which may promote parasite transmission. We measured connectivity of individuals in networks constructed from patterns of common crevice use and observed patterns of parasitism by three blood parasites (Hemolivia, Schellackia and Plasmodium) and an ectoparasitic tick (Amblyomma vikirri). Data came from a 1-year mark-recapture study of four populations. Transmission networks were constructed to represent possible transmission pathways among lizards. Two lizards that used the same refuge within an estimated transmission period were considered connected in the transmission network. An edge was placed between them, directed towards the individual that occupied the crevice last. Social networks, a sub-set of same-day only associations, were small and highly fragmented compared with transmission networks, suggesting that non-synchronous crevice use leads to more transmission opportunities than direct social association. In transmission networks, lizards infested by ticks were connected to more other tick-infested lizards than uninfected lizards. Lizards infected by ticks and carrying multiple blood parasite infections were in more connected positions in the network than lizards without ticks or with one or no blood parasites. Our findings suggest higher levels of network connectivity may increase the risk of becoming infected or that parasites influence lizard behaviour and consequently their position in the network.