Toxoplasma gondii is hypothesized to manipulate the behavior of warm-blooded hosts to promote trophic transmission into the parasite’s definitive feline hosts. A key prediction of this hypothesis is that T. gondii infections of non-feline hosts are associated with costly behavior toward T. gondii’s definitive hosts; however, this effect has not been documented in any of the parasite’s diverse wild hosts during naturally occurring interactions with felines. Here, three decades of field observations reveal that T. gondii-infected hyena cubs approach lions more closely than uninfected peers and have higher rates of lion mortality. We discuss these results in light of 1) the possibility that hyena boldness represents an extended phenotype of the parasite, and 2) alternative scenarios in which T. gondii has not undergone selection to manipulate behavior in host hyenas. Both cases remain plausible and have important ramifications for T. gondii’s impacts on host behavior and fitness in the wild.
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Gering, Eben; Zachary M. Laubach; Patty Sue D. Weber; Gisela Soboll Hussey; Kenna D. S. Lehmann; Tracy M. Montgomery; Julie W. Turner; Wei Perng; Malit O. Pioon; Kay E. Holekamp; and Thomas Getty. 2021. "Toxoplasma gondii infections are associated with costly boldness toward felids in a wild host." Nature Communications 12, (): 3842. doi:10.1038/s41467-021-24092-x.