Starving the Enemy? Feeding Behavior Shapes Host-Parasite Interactions

Jessica L. Hite, Alaina C. Pfenning, Clayton E. Cressler

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

39 Scopus citations


The loss of appetite that typically accompanies infection or mere exposure to parasites is traditionally considered a negative byproduct of infection, benefitting neither the host nor the parasite. Numerous medical and veterinary practices directly or indirectly subvert this ‘illness-mediated anorexia’. However, the ecological factors that influence it, its effects on disease outcomes, and why it evolved remain poorly resolved. We explore how hosts use anorexia to defend against infection and how parasites manipulate anorexia to enhance transmission. Then, we use a coevolutionary model to illustrate how shifts in the magnitude of anorexia (e.g., via drugs) affect disease dynamics and virulence evolution. Anorexia could be exploited to improve disease management; we propose an interdisciplinary approach to minimize unintended consequences.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)68-80
Number of pages13
JournalTrends in Ecology and Evolution
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2020


  • anorexia
  • eco-immunology
  • foraging ecology
  • sickness behavior
  • virulence evolution

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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