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Consistency of host responses to parasitic infection in the three‐spined stickleback fish infected by the diphyllobothriidean cestode Schistocephalus solidus

Heins, David C., Barry, Kelly A., Petrauskas, Laura A.
Biological journal of the Linnean Society 2014 v.113 no.4 pp. 958-968
Gasterosteidae, Schistocephalus, adverse effects, clutch size, eggs, environmental factors, fecundity, females, fish, lakes, ova, parasites, parasitism, spawning, Alaska
Among populations of the three‐spined stickleback fish in Alaska, females appear to show two forms of sterility tolerance to infection by the diphyllobothriidean cestode Schistocephalus solidus. In contrast to sticklebacks in other regions of the northern hemisphere, female fish are capable of producing clutches of eggs despite supporting large parasite burdens. Nonetheless, nutrient loss to the parasite, coupled with the energetic demands of host reproduction, eventually curtails spawning among infected females. Host females in Walby Lake experience ‘fecundity reduction’ resulting from nutrient theft as a side effect of infection. In Scout Lake, infected females show ‘fecundity compensation’, an adaptive, inducible response allowing them to increase current fecundity to compensate for reduction or loss of future reproduction. This multi‐year study of sticklebacks from each lake addresses two empirical questions for a better understanding of the dynamic interplay between host and parasite. First, is there is any annual variation within the two responses to parasitism in each host population; and, if so, is it related to parasite burden? Second, do the two host responses show consistent differences between the populations of sticklebacks despite any yearly variation in them? We found annual, intra‐population variation within the response shown by each population of stickleback which appears to have been influenced by the parasite : host mass ratio and possibly by unknown environmental conditions affecting the reproductive physiology of stickleback females. Moreover, the data support the hypothesis that ovum mass is more sensitive to parasitism (parasite burden) than clutch size in females from Walby Lake which exhibit fecundity reduction. Notwithstanding the intra‐population variation within each host response, the responses to infection occurred consistently within each respective stickleback population and appear to reflect stable, fundamental characteristics of the populations.