Grouping behaviour impacts on the parasitic pressure and squamation of sharks

Published on
18 May 2022

Grouping behaviour impacts on the parasitic pressure and squamation of sharks

Humberto G. Ferrón and Jose F. Palacios-Abella


The evolution of grouping behaviour involves a complex trade-off of benefits and costs. Among the latter, an increase in the risk of parasitic transmission is a well-documented phenomenon that has likely promoted the evolution of defensive mechanisms in aquatic vertebrates. Here, we explore the relationship between grouping behaviour, parasitic richness (∼parasitic pressure), and the evolution of potential defensive traits in the squamation of sharks through phylogenetic, standard and zero-inflation regression models. Our results demonstrate that sharks that frequently aggregate show increased parasitic pressure, which may constitute an agent of selection. Accordingly, their squamation is characterized by large-scale crown insertion angles and low-scale coverage, which are interpreted as traits that compromise parasite attachment and survival. These traits are less evident in regions of the body and ecological groups that are subjected to high abrasive stress or increased drag. Thus, the squamation of sharks responds to a compromise between various functions, where protective and hydrodynamic roles prevail over the rest (e.g. ectoparasitic defence and bioluminescence aiding). This work establishes a quantitative framework for inferring parasitic pressure and social interaction from squamation traits and provides an empirical basis from which to explore these phenomena through early vertebrate and chondrichthyan evolution.

Proc. R. Soc. B.289, DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2022.0093


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