ABSTRACT

Gambusia affinis (western mosquitofish) serves as a host for a variety of larval and adult parasites. Gambusia affinis is also an incipient matrotroph, exhibiting adjustments in post-fertilization provisioning to some offspring within a brood using recently acquired resources. Nutrient transfer to embryos is expected to limit the loss of embryo mass during development resulting in larger offspring. Since larger offspring are more likely to survive, maternal contributions are expected to increase fitness. The presence of parasites, particularly intestinal helminths, potentially reduces body condition and resources available for developing offspring, thereby reducing host fitness. The effects of parasitism on the fitness of G. affinis were investigated in the present study. Fish were collected from 3 sites monthly from June 2015 through August 2016. All helminth parasites were collected during necropsy and identified. Brood size and embryo developmental stage were recorded for each female fish. Additionally, 10 ova/embryos of each developmental stage from each female fish collected from May through August 2016 were haphazardly selected and individually weighed. From 429 female mosquitofish, 5,072 helminths were collected. Brood size varied among collection sites and was positively influenced by maternal body condition, the number of daylight hours, water temperature, and the intensity of both plerocercoid and adult Schyzocotyle acheilognathi. However, brood size was negatively related to the intensity of Neoechinorhynchus cylindratus cystacanth and an increasing number of days between collection and dissection. Embryo weight increased with the presence of either Camallanidae or Contracaecum multipapulatum, embryo developmental stage, and relative host density. These results indicate that some parasitic helminth species negatively affect the fitness of G. affinis, while some positively affect fitness, and that effect can vary with intensity.

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