Parasitism and the evolutionary ecology of animal personality

Iain Barber*, Niels J. Dingemanse

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview Articlepeer-review

216 Citations (SciVal)


The ecological factors responsible for the evolution of individual differences in animal personality (consistent individual differences in the same behaviour across time and contexts) are currently the subject of intense debate. A limited number of ecological factors have been investigated to date, with most attention focusing on the roles of resource competition and predation. We suggest here that parasitism may play a potentially important, but largely overlooked, role in the evolution of animal personalities. We identify two major routes by which parasites might influence the evolution of animal personality. First, because the risk of acquiring parasites can be influenced by an individual's behavioural type, local parasite regimes may impose selection on personality traits and behavioural syndromes (correlations between personality traits). Second, because parasite infections have consequences for aspects of host 'state', parasites might induce the evolution of individual differences in certain types of host behaviour in populations with endemic infections. Also, because infection often leads to specific changes in axes of personality, parasite infections have the potential to decouple behavioural syndromes. Host-parasite systems therefore provide researchers with valuable tools to study personality variation and behavioural syndromes from a proximate and ultimate perspective.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4077-4088
Number of pages12
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1560
Publication statusPublished - 27 Dec 2010


  • Behavioural syndrome
  • Correlational selection
  • Parasitism
  • Personality
  • Phenotypic plasticity
  • Population differentiation
  • Host-Parasite Interactions/genetics
  • Selection, Genetic
  • Models, Psychological
  • Ecological and Environmental Phenomena
  • Parasitic Diseases, Animal/genetics
  • Feedback, Psychological
  • Personality/genetics
  • Phenotype
  • Animals
  • Behavioral Research
  • Behavior, Animal/physiology
  • Models, Biological
  • Models, Genetic
  • Evolution, Molecular


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