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Nutrient availability affects the prevalence of a microsporidian parasite

Narr, Charlotte F., Ebert, Dieter, Bastille‐Rousseau, Guillaume, Frost, Paul C.
The journal of animal ecology 2019 v.88 no.4 pp. 579-590
Daphnia magna, Microsporidia, coevolution, diet, host-parasite relationships, hosts, islands, nutrient availability, nutrients, parasites, parasitism, plankton, population density, spores, Baltic Sea
Defining the relationship between nutrients and parasitism is complicated by shifts in host physiology and population density, which can both mediate the effects of host diet on parasites and vice versa. We examined the relationship between nutrient availability and an abundant parasite capable of both horizontal and vertical transmission (Hamiltosporidium tvaerminnensis) of a planktonic crustacean, Daphnia magna, in rock pools on Baltic Sea Skerry islands. We found that the relative availability of nutrients directly affected infection prevalence; parasite prevalence was higher in pools with higher particulate N:P ratios. Infection prevalence was not related to Daphnia population densities. A complementary experiment that examined host responses to an N:P gradient in mesocosms indicated that high N:P ratios can increase spore load in the hosts. We surmise that high N:P food increases Daphnia feeding rate, which increases their contact with parasite spores and leads to higher prevalence and more intense infections. We found no direct evidence that parasite‐induced changes in host nutrient use affected nutrient dynamics in pools. However, the relationship between diet N:P and the parasite's prevalence and load is consistent with previously documented patterns of this parasite's effect on host nutrient use. Taken together, this study suggests that high N:P ratios in food may benefit the parasite in multiple ways and could create environments that favour horizontal transmission over vertical transmission for parasites capable of both transmission routes. If so, nutrient limitation could have long‐term consequences for host–parasite evolution.