Iris de Winter - Department of Resource Ecology, Wageningen University
Project: Parasite prevalence in lemurs: the effect of anthropogenic disturbance and natural stress factors
Parasite prevalence and associated infectious diseases play an important role in ecological, social and evolutionary processes, but the potential drivers of parasitic loads are still unclear. However, several forms of anthropogenic habitat disturbance have been shown to increase parasite prevalence in multiple animal species. In social primates, different host-parasite interactions are expected in the following three levels of social organization: the population, the group and the individual level. On the population level, the parasite prevalence in hosts is expected to be higher in more disturbed forest fragments close to villages, compared to less disturbed habitats. On the social group level, higher parasite prevalence is expected in larger groups, in groups with large daily travel distances and in groups with a relatively lower social rank within the population. On the individual level, higher parasite loads are expected in individuals with a lower body condition, social rank and immune status. We focus on lemur species of the genus Eulemur and Propithecus as model species to explore the general mechanisms of parasite infections and transmission. Methods include the non-invasive sampling of focal animal behaviour and collection and analyses of faecal samples to assess gastrointestinal parasite prevalence. The association between parasite prevalence and reduced host fitness, combined with the parasites' potential to spread infectious diseases among wildlife and human populations, underlines the importance of this project from an ecological, a social developmental, and a conservation perspective.