Behaviour underpins interactions among conspecifics and between species, with consequences for the transmission of disease-causing parasites. Because many parasites lead to declines in population size and increased risk of extinction for threatened species, understanding the link between host behaviour and disease transmission is particularly important for conservation management. Here, we consider the intersection of behaviour, ecology and parasite transmission, broadly encompassing micro- and macroparasites. We focus on behaviours that have direct impacts on transmission, as well as the behaviours that result from infection. Given the important role of parasites in host survival and reproduction, the effects of behaviour on parasitism can scale up to population-level processes, thus affecting species conservation. Understanding how conservation and infectious disease control strategies actually affect transmission potential can therefore often only be understood through a behavioural lens. We highlight how behavioural perspectives of disease ecology apply to conservation by reviewing the different ways that behavioural ecology influences parasite transmission and conservation goals. This article is part of the theme issue 'Linking behaviour to dynamics of populations and communities: application of novel approaches in behavioural ecology to conservation'.