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Towards understanding the role of diet in host-parasite interactions: the case for Japanese macaques. 

MacIntosh AJJ, Huffman MA

 The Japanese macaques. In: Nakagawa N, Nakamichi M, Sugiura H (eds) , pp. 323-344


 Parasites are ubiquitous in nature, their impacts ranging from benign to pathological, and can significantly drive host population dynamics. In response, vertebrates have evolved both physiological, i.e. the immune system, and behavioral counter-strategies. Animal self-medication, one such behavioral counter-strategy, involves the ingestion of plant items containing antiparasitic plant secondary metabolites (PSMs). I focus here on the potential tri-trophic interaction between diet and parasitic infection in Japanese macaques (Macaca fuscata) in order to create a link between parasitic challenge and the ingestion of antiparasitic PSMs, establishing such interactions within the context of feeding ecology. Using a meta-analytical approach, I compiled food lists for 10 populations of Japanese macaques (1,664 plant part items) to determine the proportion of items ingested which in the ethnomedicinal and scientific literature are shown to contain antiparasitic properties. Previous work has shown that the diversity of nematode parasites infecting Japanese macaques, i.e. species richness, increases with decreasing latitude, suggesting variations in relative parasitic challenge across populations. I compared the proportion of antiparasitic plant items in the diets of 9 of the 10 populations with their respective nematode species richness (range 0-5). A generalized linear model showed an increase in the proportion of antiparasitic items consumed with nematode species richness. There was no effect of latitude in the model. No relationship existed between these predictor variables and the proportion of other potentially medicinal plant items unrelated to parasitic activity. My results thus suggest a link between parasitic stress and the feeding behavior of Japanese macaque host populations.


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