The behavioural control of helminth infection by sheep
Parasites have detrimental effects on an animal's fitness and could play a significant role in shaping the adaptive behaviour of animals. Natural selection may favour those behaviours utilised by animals that minimise the risk and intensity of infections. Animals use a range of behavioural strategies associated with grooming, social, mating, migratory and foraging behaviours to minimise their parasite burdens. Herbivores have two means available for reducing the effects of parasites while foraging. They may avoid parasites or consume plants with anti-parasitic properties. Sheep (Ovis aries) were shown to avoid foraging in areas of the sward contaminated with O. circumcincta infective larvae but could only do so when larvae were associated with faeces. The ability of sheep to avoid contaminated patches of the sward increased as the size of contaminated sward patches increased. This avoidance behaviour resulted in a reduction in the numbers of parasites ingested. Animals infected with O. circumcincta were more selective in their grazing behaviour than uninfected animals with respect to faeces avoidance. In order to determine which plants possess anti-parasitic properties Lotus pedunculatus, Pinus sylvestris, Tanacetum vulgare and Artemisia absinthium extracts were screened against Trichostrongylus colubriformis infections in the Mongolian gerbil (Meriones unguiculatus). Only A. absinthium merited further investigation as it appeared to suppress worm burdens when administered in a high single dose. A. absinthium extracts were subsequently administered to sheep infected with T. colubriformis.