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Sex-biased parasitism in Richardson’s ground squirrels (Urocitellus richardsonii) depends on the parasite examined

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Abstract:

Sex-biased parasitism is found in many species, but the skew to one sex or the other varies and is most likely due to differences in host and parasite behaviour and the intensity of sexual selection. We examined sex-biased parasitism in Richardson’s ground squirrels (Urocitellus richardsonii (Sabine, 1822)) and hypothesized that males would be more heavily parasitized than females, as they are larger, have larger home ranges, and display high aggression and fighting during the short mating season, suggesting that they may trade off investment in immunity for higher investment in reproduction. Squirrels were caught during the mating season and examined for endoparasites and ectoparasites. Body mass, condition, and immune measures were recorded. Males had higher nematode prevalence and abundance, whereas females had higher flea prevalence. Males also had lower lymphocytes than females, as well as higher neutrophil to lymphocyte ratios. Females had higher eosinophils and they were in poorer body condition than males. The higher endoparasite loads in males suggests that they may be trading off immunity, whereas higher flea prevalence in females may be due to differences in sociality between the sexes. Our study demonstrates the importance of examining multiple parasite types to understand the factors influencing sex-biased parasitism.

Keywords: Richardson’s ground squirrels; Urocitellus richardsonii; ectoparasites; endoparasites; immunity; immunité; parasitisme variant selon le sexe; sex-biased parasitism; écureuil de Richardson

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1139/cjz-2013-0151

Affiliations: 1: Department of Biology, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, MB R3T 2N2, Canada. 2: Assiniboine Park Zoo, 2595 Roblin Boulevard, Winnipeg, MB R3R 0B8, Canada.

Publication date: January 1, 2014

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  • Published since 1929, this monthly journal reports on primary research contributed by respected international scientists in the broad field of zoology, including behaviour, biochemistry and physiology, developmental biology, ecology, genetics, morphology and ultrastructure, parasitology and pathology, and systematics and evolution. It also invites experts to submit review articles on topics of current interest.
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