The growth and eventual size of larval helminths in their intermediate hosts presumably has a variety of fitness consequences. Therefore, elucidating the proximate factors affecting parasite development within intermediate hosts should provide insight into the evolution of parasite life histories. An experimental infection that resulted in heavy intensities of an acanthocephalan (Acanthocephalus lucii) in its isopod intermediate host (Asellus aquaticus) permitted the examination of parasite developmental responses to variable levels of resource availability and intraspecific competition. Isopods were infected by exposure to egg-containing fish feces, and larval infrapopulations were monitored throughout the course of A. lucii development. The relative rate of parasite growth slowed over time, and indications of resource constraints on developing parasites, e.g., crowding effects, were only observed in late infections. Consequently, the factors likely representative of resource availability to larval parasites (host size and molting rate) primarily affected parasite size in late infections. Moreover, at this stage of infection, competitive interactions, gauged by variation in worm size, seemed to be alleviated by greater resources, i.e., larger hosts that molted more frequently. The relatively rapid, unconstrained growth of young parasites may be worse for host viability than the slower, resource-limited growth of larger parasites.

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