Abstract

Opportunity for parasites to manipulate host behavioral phenotype may be influenced by several factors, including the host ecology and the presence of cohabiting parasites in the same host. Metacercariae of Ornithodiplostomum ptychocheilus and “black spot” Crassiphiala bulboglossa have similar life cycles. Each parasite uses a littoral snail as a first intermediate host, fathead minnows as a second intermediate host, and a piscivorous bird as a final host. Metacercariae of black spot encyst in the dermal and epidermal tissues, while metacercariae of O. ptychocheilus encyst on the brain over a region that coordinates optomotor responses. Because of site differences within the host, we predicted that O. ptychocheilus metacercariae might manipulate the behavioral phenotype of minnows to facilitate transmission to the final host, but metacercariae of black spot would not. In our study population, prevalence was 100% for O. ptychocheilus, with an overall median intensity of 105 metacercariae per minnow. Prevalence of black spot was 60%, with a median abundance and intensity of 12 and 20 metacercariae per minnow for the overall sample and for infected fish, respectively. Minnows accumulated both parasites over time, producing significant correlations between intensity and minnow body length and between intensities of the 2 parasites. Minnows infected with black spot had on average twice as many O. ptychocheilus metacercariae as similar-sized minnows without any black spot cercariae. We found no correlation between body condition of minnows and intensity for either parasite. We measured 2 aspects of anti-predator competence to test for effects linked to parasite intensity. We found no correlation between intensity of either species of parasite and latency to behavioral response to attack from a mechanical model heron, nor was there any effect of parasite intensity on a measure of shoaling affinity. The absence of any detectable effect of metacercariae on anti-predator competence in minnows may reflect selection against parasite pathology from predation by non-hosts of the parasites and overwinter mortality due to low dissolved oxygen.

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