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Differences in pyloric caeca morphology between Arctic charr Salvelinus alpinus ecotypes: adaptation to trophic specialization or parasite-induced phenotypic modifications?

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Gut-tract morphology differed between benthivorous and zooplanktivorous Arctic charr Salvelinus alpinus caught in the littoral and pelagic zones of a sub-Arctic lake. The differences were related to trophic niche and infection with the cestodes Cyathocephalus truncatus and Eubothrium salvelini. Measurements that were unrelated to cestode infection, including intestinal length, numbers of pyloric caeca and posterior pyloric caeca morphology, differed between S. alpinus that had consumed different prey types, suggesting an adaptive response to divergent trophic niches. The anterior pyloric caeca of S. alpinus with high numbers of cestodes were significantly wider and shorter than those in fish with lower levels of infection. The differences were strongly associated with infection by C. truncatus, which was site-selective and attached to the anterior caeca with a large scolex. Differences in caecal measurements were probably the result of mechanical damage caused by scolex attachment and host responses to infection with C. truncatus. The differences in anterior caeca were also an indirect indicator of trophic specialization. Benthivorous S. alpinus were more exposed to, and more heavily infected with C. truncatus than were pelagic zooplanktivorous fish, because this cestode had Gammaruslacustris as its intermediate host. Nevertheless, care should be exercized when using gut measurements for making inferences about the trophic ecology of fish because a history of infection with cestodes may have profound effects on caecal morphology.
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Keywords: Salvelinus alpinus; ecotype adaptation; feeding ecology; gut; intestinal cestodes; polymorphism

Document Type: Regular Paper

Affiliations: Department of Aquatic BioSciences, Norwegian College of Fishery Science, University of Tromsø, N-9037 Tromsø, Norway

Publication date: 01 July 2008

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