Behavioral Immunity and Social Distancing in the Wild: The Same as in Humans?

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The COVID-19 pandemic imposed new norms on human interactions, perhaps best reflected in the widespread application of social distancing. But social distancing is not a human invention and has evolved independently in species as dissimilar as apes and lobsters. Epidemics are common in the wild, where their spread is enhanced by animal movement and sociality while curtailed by population fragmentation, host behavior, and the immune systems of hosts. In the present article, we explore the phenomenon of behavioral immunity in wild animals as compared with humans and its relevance to the control of disease in nature. We start by explaining the evolutionary benefits and risks of sociality, look at how pathogens have shaped animal evolution, and provide examples of pandemics in wild animal populations. Then we review the known occurrences of social distancing in wild animals, the cues used to enforce it, and its efficacy in controlling the spread of diseases in nature.



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