Consequences of passive self-isolation

Pathogens can trigger diverse changes in host social behaviors. These behavioral changes include avoidance, active self-isolation, enforced exclusion of infected conspecifics, but also passive self-isolation. Passive self-isolation is a result of so-called sickness behaviors like lethargy and reduces contact between the infected individual and healthy group members. Isolation of an individual from a social group, however, comes with significant social costs such as loss of social status, parental care, or social relationships. My research explores this balance of social costs and physiological benefits and broadly asks the question of when it is acceptable to “behave sick”. I use injections of an immunostimulant in highly social common vampire bats (Desmodus rotundus) to investigate costs and benefits of passive self-isolation (collaborations with Gerald „Gerry“ Carter, Rachel Page, Dan Bolnick).

Behavioral aspects of host/pathogen co-evolution

The strenght and nature of infection-induced behavioral changes is a key element of host-pathogen coevolution which may favor changes in virulence or even evolution of social manipulations by pathogens. For instance, a pathogen that is socially transmitted might evolve counteradaptations to a host’s behavioral response that reduces transmission. Vampire bats are infected with a range of bacterial and viral pathogens that circulate in their populations and potentially spread by their many social interactions such as grooming, foodsharing or aggressive encounters. So far, we have collected behavioral data from rabies infected vampire bats, but we intend to explore this in other vampire bat/pathogen systems as well.

Simultaneous tracking of reservoir and host species

We aim to focus on understanding the fine-scale behavior of both reservoir (vampire bats) and host (livestock) individuals that lead to inter-specific interactions and potential for transmission. We use a recent state-of-the-art technological innovation, highly efficient and miniaturized proximity sensors that can be attached to both, large and small vertebrates to simultaneously track encounters among many individuals. We use these loggers to map encounter networks of vampire bats and their host species (livestock such as cattle and horses) and also aim to simultaneously track pathogen transmission events using molecular methods (collaboration with Gerald Carter, Simon Ripperger)