Behavioural defences in animals against pathogens and parasites: Parallels with the pillars of medicine in humans

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114 Scopus citations


No other theme in animal biology seems to be more central than the concept of employing strategies to survive and successfully reproduce. In nature, controlling or avoiding pathogens and parasites is an essential fitness strategy because of the ever-present disease-causing organisms. The disease-control strategies discussed here are: physical avoidance and removal of pathogens and parasites; quarantine or peripheralization of conspecifics that could be carrying potential pathogens; herbal medicine, animal style, to prevent or treat an infection; potentiation of the immune system; and care of sick or injured group members. These strategies are seen as also encompassing the pillars of human medicine: (i) quarantine; (ii) immune-boosting vaccinations; (iii) use of medicinal products; and (iv) caring or nursing. In contrast to animals, in humans, the disease-control strategies have been consolidated into a consistent and extensive medical system. A hypothesis that explains some of this difference between animals and humans is that humans are sick more often than animals. This increase in sickness in humans leading to an extensive, cognitively driven medical system is attributed to an evolutionary dietary transition from mostly natural vegetation to a meat-based diet, with an increase in health-eroding free radicals and a dietary reduction of free-radical-scavenging antioxidants.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3406-3417
Number of pages12
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1583
StatePublished - Dec 12 2011


  • Animal behaviour
  • Behavioural defences
  • Herbal medicine
  • Medicine
  • Parasites

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


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