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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1999 Aug 3;96(16):9165-8.

Behavioral reduction of infection risk.

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  • 1School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, Yale University, Greeley Memorial Lab, 370 Prospect Street, New Haven, CT 06511, USA.


Evolutionary biologists have long postulated that there should be fitness advantages to animals that are able to recognize and avoid conspecifics infected with contact-transmitted disease. This avoidance hypothesis is in direct conflict with much of epidemiological theory, which is founded on the assumptions that the likelihood of infection is equal among members of a population and constant over space. The inconsistency between epidemiological theory and the avoidance hypothesis has received relatively little attention because, to date, there has been no evidence that animals can recognize and reduce infection risk from conspecifics. We investigated the effects of Candida humicola, a pathogen that reduces growth rates and can cause death of tadpoles, on associations between infected and uninfected individuals. Here we demonstrate that bullfrog (Rana catesbeiana) tadpoles avoid infected conspecifics because proximity influences infection. This avoidance behavior is stimulated by chemical cues from infected individuals and thus does not require direct contact between individuals. Such facultative modulations of disease infection risk may have critical consequences for the population dynamics of disease organisms and their impact on host populations.

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