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Weighing the costs and benefits of sociality in semi-free ranging Barbary macaques (Macaca sylvanus)


Prof. Dr. Julia Ostner, Göttingen

PhD Student: Nadine Müller


Group-living carries both costs and benefits for an individual’s health in humans and other social animals. Frequent social contact generates costs related to the spread of infectious diseases, including many gastro-intestinal parasite infections acquired through fecal-oral transmission pathways. At the same time, individuals with close social bonds exhibit higher reproductive rates, enhanced offspring survival and increased longevity. In this study, we aim to investigate the trade-off between costs and benefits of social contact for parasite transmission using experimental parasite clearance in group-living Barbary macaques (Macaca sylvanus). Capitalizing on routine de-worming of our semi-free-ranging study population at Affenberg Salem, Germany, we will monitor individual parasite re-infection, which will provide new perspectives on the temporal and potentially causal connections between susceptibility, sociality and parasite infections. Across two study periods we will combine detailed data on social and spatial behavior with molecular analyses of immune function (neopterin, CRP) and physiological stress (glucocorticoid levels) to increase our understanding of the social factors influencing parasite exposure. The tight monitoring of different physiological measures influencing the immune function will enable us to assess the impact of sociality on individual susceptibility to parasite infection. Thus, in this experimental design, we will expand the current state of knowledge about the interplay of sociality, physiological stress and parasite burden and, in an important methodological advance, introduce Np and CRP as novel markers to non-invasively monitor immune system activation.


Presentations at conferences

GfP Leipzig 2015: Poster: comparing social networks before and after
experimental deworming in Barbary macaques at Affenberg Salem

IPS Chicago 2016: Talk: Impact of antihelminthic treatment and aging on
urinary Neopterin in semi-free ranging Barbary macaques

GfP Zürich 2017: Talk: Physiological and social correlates of parasite
infection  in semi-free ranging Barbary macaques

DVG Tagung Hannover, 2017: Talk: The connection between health, age, and
parasite infection  in semi-free ranging Barbary macaques at Affenberg Salem