A further cost for the sicker sex? Evidence for male-biased parasite-induced vulnerability to predation

Jessica F. Stevenson, Cormac Kinsella, Joanne Cable, Cock Van Oosterhout

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Males are typically the sicker sex. Data from multiple taxa indicate that they are more likely to be infected with parasites, and are less ‘tolerant’, or less able to mitigate the fitness costs of a given infection, than females. One cost of infection for many animals is an increased probability of being captured by a predator. A clear, hitherto untested, prediction is therefore that this parasite-induced vulnerability to predation is more pronounced among males than females. We tested this prediction in the sexually size dimorphic guppy, Poecilia reticulata, in which females are typically larger than males. We either sham or experimentally infected guppies with Gyrodactylus turnbulli, elicited their escape response using an established protocol and measured the distance they covered during 60 ms. To discriminate between the effects of body size and those of other inherent sex differences, we size-matched fish across treatment groups. Infection with G. turnbulli reduced the distance covered during the escape response of small adults by 20.1%, whereas that of large fish was unaffected. This result implies that parasite-induced vulnerability to predation is male-biased in the wild: although there was no difference in escape response between our experimentally size-matched groups of males and females, males are significantly smaller across natural guppy populations. These results are consistent with Bateman’s principle for immunity: natural selection for larger body sizes and longevity in females seems to have resulted in the evolution of increased infection tolerance. We discuss the potential implications of male-biased parasite-induced vulnerability for the evolutionary ecology of this host-parasite interaction in natural communities.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2506–2515
Number of pages10
JournalEcology and Evolution
Issue number8
Early online date14 Mar 2016
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2016


  • parasite-induced vulnerability to predation
  • sex-biased parasitism
  • Poecilia reticulata
  • Gyrodactylus
  • Bateman's principle for immunity
  • infection tolerance

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