Ectoparasites, Fitness, and Social Behaviour of Yellow-Bellied Marmots

Authors

  • Dirk Van Vuren

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Wildlife, Fish, and Conservation Biology, University of California, Davis
      Department of Wildlife, Fish, and Conservation Biology, University of California, Davis, CA 95616, USA
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    • 3

      Van Vuren, D. 1996: Ectoparasites, fitness, and social behaviour of yellow-bellied marmots. Ethology 102, 686–694.


Department of Wildlife, Fish, and Conservation Biology, University of California, Davis, CA 95616, USA

Abstract

Parasites can cause a loss of fitness for their hosts, potentially influencing social behaviour patterns of the host that promote or hinder parasite transmission. I studied yellow-bellied marmots (Marmota flaviventris) and their ectoparasites to determine if ectoparasites reduce the fitness of marmots and to test whether ectoparasite loads differ according to social behaviour. Three taxa of ectoparasites were identified, fleas (Oropsylla Stanfordi), lice (Linognathoides marmotae), and mites (family Dermanyssidae). High ectoparasite loads were related to slower growth, lower overwinter survival, and reduced reproduction, suggesting that ectoparasites are a fitness cost for marmots. Ectoparasite loads were not higher in colonial than in noncolonial marmots, nor in polygynous than in monogamous adult males. There was a trend, however, toward higher ectoparasite loads in marmots that were dispersing rather than philopatric. Further, ectoparasite loads differed among groups of marmots that nested or hibernated communally, indicating that spatial scale is important in understanding the relationships between parasites and social behaviour.

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