Shy mice get sick faster

Date: 22 August 2019

Introduction: Can animal personality affect infection probability?

The more people surrounding you, the more likely you are to get infected with some kind of virus, such as a simple cold or even the flu. In humans it seems quite logic that the most social people have therefore the largest chance to attract an infection…

But what about animals? Can animal personality affect infection probability?
Bram Vanden Broecke (Global Change Ecology Centre, Research Group Evolutionary Ecology) and his collaborators looked into this by using the multimammate mice, a rodent species living in sub-saharan Africa, as a model species.  Bram is a specialist in the complex research on animal personality in pest species.

The researchers established three different populations of wild individuals. Every two weeks, they captured individuals to look at changes in the density, to take blood samples and to test personality. The latter was done inside a big arena, where they observed the exploration behaviour of every rodent individually by studying its activity and interactions with the blind holes inside the floor of the arena.

Not so surprisingly, more individuals with antibodies against a virus (which means that they were infected) were found at higher densities. Surprisingly, they found that very explorative individuals, were less likely to acquire infections compared to less explorative individuals.

“We were surprised with these results and we now need to further investigate why personality affects virus transmission. One option is that slowly exploring individuals are more social, making them more prone to infection compared to the very explorative individuals which are more asocial.”

The results were published in the journal Ecology & Evolution.


Bram observing mice in a box...