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Keywords:

  • bats;
  • mites;
  • parasite survival;
  • sex-biased parasitism;
  • Spinturnix

Summary

  • 1
    Sex differences in levels of parasite infection are a common rule in a wide range of mammals, with males usually more susceptible than females. Sex-specific exposure to parasites, e.g. mediated through distinct modes of social aggregation between and within genders, as well as negative relationships between androgen levels and immune defences are thought to play a major role in this pattern.
  • 2
    Reproductive female bats live in close association within clusters at maternity roosts, whereas nonbreeding females and males generally occupy solitary roosts. Bats represent therefore an ideal model to study the consequences of sex-specific social and spatial aggregation on parasites’ infection strategies.
  • 3
    We first compared prevalence and parasite intensities in a host–parasite system comprising closely related species of ectoparasitic mites (Spinturnix spp.) and their hosts, five European bat species. We then compared the level of parasitism between juvenile males and females in mixed colonies of greater and lesser mouse-eared bats Myotis myotis and M. blythii. Prevalence was higher in adult females than in adult males stemming from colonial aggregations in all five studied species. Parasite intensity was significantly higher in females in three of the five species studied. No difference in prevalence and mite numbers was found between male and female juveniles in colonial roosts.
  • 4
    To assess whether observed sex-biased parasitism results from differences in host exposure only, or, alternatively, from an active, selected choice made by the parasite, we performed lab experiments on short-term preferences and long-term survival of parasites on male and female Myotis daubentoni. When confronted with adult males and females, parasites preferentially selected female hosts, whereas no choice differences were observed between adult females and subadult males. Finally, we found significantly higher parasite survival on adult females compared with adult males.
  • 5
    Our study shows that social and spatial aggregation favours sex-biased parasitism that could be a mere consequence of an active and adaptive parasite choice for the more profitable host.