Effects of social status and stress on patterns of gastrointestinal parasitism in wild white-handed gibbons (Hylobates lar)


  • Thomas R. Gillespie,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Environmental Health, Rollins School of Public Health, Emory University, Atlanta, GA
    • Department of Environmental Studies and Program in Population Biology, Ecology and Evolution, Emory University, Atlanta, GA
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  • Claudia Barelli,

    1. Museo delle Scienze, Sezione di Biodiversità Tropicale, Trento, Italy
    2. German Primate Center (DPZ), Reproductive Biology Unit, Göttingen, Germany
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  • Michael Heistermann

    1. German Primate Center (DPZ), Reproductive Biology Unit, Göttingen, Germany
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Correspondence to: Thomas R. Gillespie, E510 Math and Science Center, 400 Dowman Drive, Emory University, Atlanta, GA 30322, USA. E-mail: thomas.gillespie@emory.edu


Although gibbons (family Hylobatidae) are typically monogamous, polyandrous groups occur regularly. Stress associated with elevated intragroup competition among males in polyandrous groups may increase susceptibility to infectious disease. To better understand this interplay, as well as to provide the first comprehensive assessment of parasitism in free-ranging gibbons, we characterized the richness of gastrointestinal parasites and examined their prevalence in males from 14 groups (10 pair-living, 4 multi-male) of white-handed gibbons (Hylobates lar) at Khao Yai National Park, Thailand. From September 2008 to May 2009, 324 fecal samples were collected from 23 individually recognizable male gibbons and screened for gastrointestinal helminths and protozoa after isolation via fecal floatation, sedimentation, and immunofluorescent antibody detection. A total of 10 parasite species recovered, including seven nematodes, two protozoans, and one trematode. Parasite richness and species-specific prevalence were examined relative to social organization (pair-living vs. multi-male), male status (primary vs. secondary), age (subadult, adult, senior), fecal glucocorticoid levels, and time of the year. No relationship was found between parasite richness and sociodemographic or physiological factors. Similarly, prevalence of infection with parasite species was not associated with the majority of sociodemographic factors; however, Ternidens sp. and Balantidium coli varied seasonally and Trichuris sp. decreased with increasing age. Moreover, observational data suggest that competition is low in this gibbon population, and our findings are consistent with those observations in that cooperative defense may offset stress and reduce susceptibility to infection. Am J Phys Anthropol 150:602–608, 2013. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.