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Non-native parasite enhances susceptibility of host to native predators

Gehman, Alyssa-Lois M., Byers, James E.
Oecologia 2017 v.183 no.4 pp. 919-926
Callinectes sapidus, coasts, crabs, herds, hosts, laboratory experimentation, parasites, parasitism, physiology, predation, predators, risk
Parasites often alter host physiology and behavior, which can enhance predation risk for infected hosts. Higher consumption of parasitized prey can in turn lead to a less parasitized prey population (the healthy herd hypothesis). Loxothylacus panopaei is a non-native castrating barnacle parasite on the mud crab Eurypanopeus depressus along the Atlantic coast. Through prey choice mesocosm experiments and a field tethering experiment, we investigated whether the predatory crab Callinectes sapidus and other predators preferentially feed on E. depressus infected with L. panopaei. We found that C. sapidus preferentially consumed infected E. depressus 3 to 1 over visibly uninfected E. depressus in the mesocosm experiments. Similarly, infected E. depressus were consumed 1.2 to 1 over uninfected conspecifics in field tethering trials. We evaluated a mechanism behind this skewed prey choice, specifically whether L. panopaei affects E. depressus movement, making infected prey more vulnerable to predator attack. Counter to our expectations, infected E. depressus ran faster during laboratory trials than uninfected E. depressus, suggesting that quick movement may not decrease predation risk and seems instead to make the prey more vulnerable. Ultimately, the preferential consumption of L. panopaei-infected prey by C. sapidus highlights how interactions between organisms could affect where novel parasites are able to thrive.