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Behavior-altering parasite moves wolves to head of pack


An image of three wolves in a snowy landscape.

toxoplasma gondii It is a ubiquitous protozoan parasite that can infect all warm-blooded species. In laboratory research, T. Gondi It has been shown to increase dopamine and testosterone levels, along with host risk-taking behavior in rodents, chimpanzees, hyenas, etc. Oh, and humans.

However, its effects have not really been studied in the wild, so some researchers decided to assess how the infection would affect gray wolves in Yellowstone National Park. Probability of being seropositive [infected] Wolves are more than 46 times more likely to be pack leaders than seronegative wolves to be pack leaders. “

in the wild

Serum samples have been collected from the Yellowstone wolf pack since 1995. These scientists analyzed samples from 229 wolves (116 males, 112 females, and 1 hermaphrodite) collected over the years and sought to correlate the presence of antibodies to the parasite with demographics. . Factors and specific actions. (The relationship between antibodies and infection is complicated because parasites can persist indefinitely at low levels after infection.)

Gray wolves and cougars are intermediate and definitive hosts, respectively. T. GondiThat is, the parasite develops to sexual maturity on wolves, but must infect cougars to reproduce sexually. are overlapping and competing for the same prey. The greatest predictors of wolf infestation with parasites are greater than demographic factors such as the wolf’s age, sex, and coat color.

Wolves with antibodies to the parasite were much more likely to leave the herd to leave the herd and become herd leaders. Pursuing both of these courses of action constitute aggressive and dangerous wolf behavior and represent the two biggest decisions in a wolf’s life.

In charge of Parasite?

Because gray wolves live in packs, pack leaders disproportionately influence pack decisions. Infected leaders can increase the overall number of infected wolves. This is because pack leaders have a reproductive advantage, and risk-taking leaders may not hesitate to lead their pack into cougar territory.

Additionally, wolves are social creatures that learn from and imitate the actions of their leaders.yes T. Gondi– Infected, aggressive and risk-taking herd leaders can create “a more assertive and risk-taking herd culture, even though only a few key individuals are actually infected.” I can do it.

Of course, increased involvement in risky behavior is risky, so the leaders of these highly aggressive wolves and some of the packs that copy them are more likely to commit suicide. The selfish genes that determine behavior and destiny aren’t even their own genes. Parasites are puppeteers.

communication biology, 2022 Doi: 10.1038/s42003-022-04122-0




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