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Reproductive potential of Schistocephalus solidus-infected male three-spined stickleback Gasterosteus aculeatus from two U.K. populations

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Male three-spined stickleback Gasterosteus aculeatus from two U.K. populations with endemic infections of the cestode Schistocephalus solidus were brought into the laboratory prior to the breeding season and transferred to nesting tanks under conditions designed to stimulate sexual maturation. Nesting and courtship behaviours were scored over a 35 day period, after which fish were euthanized and the liver, spleen, kidney and gonads were weighed. Among G. aculeatus from a park pond in Leicester, U.K., infected males rarely engaged in reproductive behaviours and exhibited reduced indices of sexual development, body condition and general health, with effects being largely independent of relative parasite mass (parasite index, IP). In contrast, the reproductive behaviour of infected fish from Kendoon Loch in Dumfriesshire, U.K. appeared to be less severely affected, with infected fish regularly building nests and courting females under laboratory conditions. This was paralleled by a more limited effect of infection on physiological indicators of development, condition and general health. Furthermore, behavioural and physiological variables typically correlated with IP among infected fish from this population. Although comparing the performance of infected fish from the two populations directly was difficult due to potentially confounding factors, the results support the findings of recent studies showing that the effects of S. solidus on host reproduction are unlikely to be uniform across G. aculeatus populations. One possibility is that variation in the effects of infection arises from differences in the co-evolutionary association times of G. aculeatus with the parasite.

Keywords: Gasterosteidae; courtship; infection; nests; parasites

Document Type: Regular Paper


Affiliations: 1: Cefas Weymouth Laboratory, The Nothe, Weymouth, DT4 8UB, U.K. 2: Department of Biology, Adrian Building, University Road, University of Leicester, Leicester, LE1 7RH, U.K.

Publication date: 2009-11-01

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