Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 65, Issue 7, pp 1459–1471 | Cite as

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

  • Jenny C. Dunn
  • Ella F. Cole
  • John L. Quinn
Original Paper


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 behaviour Malaria Plasmodium Leucocytozoon Problem-solving performance Exploratory behaviour 



We thank Ben Sheldon for advice during the initial stages of the work, Sarah Knowles, Olof Hellgren, Matt Wood and Ricardo Alves for assistance during field data collection and laboratory analysis, Zsofia Gergely for assistance with behavioural assays, Alicia Davies and other members of the EGI for helpful discussion. The work was supported by a Royal Society grant to JLQ; laboratory facilities and materials were provided by B. Sheldon.

Conflicts of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.

Supplementary material

265_2011_1156_MOESM1_ESM.doc (76 kb)
Appendix 1 Full 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 2 Results 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)


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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

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