The role of host traits, season and group size on parasite burdens in a cooperative mammal
Ueckermann, Edward Albert
Bennett, Nigel C.
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The distribution of parasites among hosts is often characterised by a high degree of heterogeneity with a small number of hosts harbouring the majority of parasites. Such patterns of aggregation have been linked to variation in host exposure and susceptibility as well as parasite traits and environmental factors. Host exposure and susceptibility may differ with sexes, reproductive effort and group size. Furthermore, environmental factors may affect both the host and parasite directly and contribute to temporal heterogeneities in parasite loads. We investigated the contributions of host and parasite traits as well as season on parasite loads in highveld mole-rats (Cryptomys hottentotus pretoriae). This cooperative breeder exhibits a reproductive division of labour and animals live in colonies of varying sizes that procreate seasonally. Mole-rats were parasitised by lice, mites, cestodes and nematodes with mites (Androlaelaps sp.) and cestodes (Mathevotaenia sp.) being the dominant ecto- and endoparasites, respectively. Sex and reproductive status contributed little to the observed parasite prevalence and abundances possibly as a result of the shared burrow system. Clear seasonal patterns of parasite prevalence and abundance emerged with peaks in summer for mites and in winter for cestodes. Group size correlated negatively with mite abundance while it had no effect on cestode burdens and group membership affected infestation with both parasites. We propose that the mode of transmission as well as social factors constrain parasite propagation generating parasite patterns deviating from those commonly predicted.