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Water choice as a counterstrategy to faecally transmitted disease: an experimental study in captive lemurs

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Many parasites and pathogens are transmitted via water, including through faecal contamination of water sources. Yet water is essential for survival, and some species gain nutritional and other benefits from coprophagy. We investigated how primates balance the risks of faecal pathogen transmission with potential benefits of faeces ingestion in their selection of water sources by conducting behavioural experiments with five species of lemurs (Family Lemuridae) in captivity. Subjects were given a choice between clean water and water ‘contaminated’ with disinfected faecal material, which contained cues associated with faecally transmitted parasites, but minimal risk. We found that lemurs exhibited strong preferences for the clean water. This pattern was supported even at low levels of faecal contamination and in species adapted to water-limited habitats, for which choosiness about water quality could present a dehydration risk. Our results strongly support the hypothesis that avoiding faecal contamination is important in water selection.

Affiliations: 1: aDepartment of Evolutionary Anthropology, Duke University, 130 Science Drive, Room 108, Durham, NC 27708, USA ; 2: bSchool of Veterinary Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, 3800 Spruce Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA ; 3: cDuke Global Health Institute, Duke University, 310 Trent Drive, Durham, NC 27710, USA

*Corresponding author’s e-mail address:

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