Does elevated testosterone result in increased exposure and transmission of parasites?




Male-biased infection is a common phenomenon in vertebrate-parasite systems and male-biased transmission has been experimentally demonstrated. One mechanism that is hypothesized to create male-biased transmission is the immuno-suppressive effect of testosterone because it increases susceptibility to infection. Testosterone also influences host behaviour and, consequently, may increase exposure to parasites. To test how testosterone could increase exposure and transmission, we undertook a longitudinal mark-recapture study where we experimentally elevated testosterone levels in wild male rodents. Individuals in control populations reduced the average number of contacts over the treatment period, while populations with experimentally elevated testosterone levels maintained the number of contacts between hosts. As a result, the transmission potential was higher in testosterone treated populations compared to controls. Our results indicated that males with high-testosterone levels alter the population-level contacts, producing different social networks and increasing transmission potential compared to those where testosterone is at background levels.