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Int J Parasitol. 2006 Jun;36(7):735-40. Epub 2006 Mar 20.

Vector-borne parasites decrease host mobility: a field test of freeze or flee behaviour of willow ptarmigan.

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Department of Biology, University of Bergen, Realfagbygget, All├Ęgaten 41, 5007 Bergen, Norway.


Transmission mode has been suggested to be a strong predictor of virulence. According to theory, the transmission of vector-borne parasites should be less dependent on host mobility than directly transmitted parasites. This could select for increased exploitation of host resources in parasites transmitted by vectors, which may be manifested as higher virulence. Here, we test the prediction that there is an association between transmission mode and the effect on host mobility by comparing parasite infection levels and mobility in willow ptarmigan (Lagopus lagopus L.). We examined the endoparasite infracommunities of individual hosts to obtain annual, quantitative data on four vector-transmitted species (Leucocytozoon lovati, Trypanosoma avium, Haemoproteus mansoni and microfilaria), two directly transmitted species (Trichostrongylus tenuis and Eimeria sp.) and two species with indirect life cycles (Hymenolepis microps and Parionella urogalli). We then used observed variations in freeze-or-flee responses of individual willow ptarmigan to assess whether parasite intensities were related to scored freezing responses. From a field data set covering a period of 9 years from a single area, we found that stronger freezing responses were associated with higher intensities of vector-borne parasites, especially with higher intensities of the haemosporidian L. lovati. Freezing responses were not associated with parasites transmitted in other ways. Thus, high intensities of vector-borne parasites tended to reduce host movements, while parasites with other transmission modes did not.

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