Author(s): Arnott SA, Barber I, Huntingford FA
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Abstract Parasites impose an energetic cost upon their hosts, yet, paradoxically instances have been reported in which infection is associated with enhanced, rather than diminished, host growth rates. Field studies of these parasite effects are problematic, since the pre-infection condition of the hosts is generally unknown. Here, we describe a laboratory experiment in which the growth rate and body condition of 76 laboratory-reared three-spined stickleback fishes were examined before, during and after each fish was fed the infective stage of the parasitic cestode Schistocephalus solidus. Twenty-one of these fishes went on to become infected by the cestode. Fishes were individually housed and provided with an abundant food supply to eliminate the potentially masking effects of variable competitive ability. Infection occurred independently of fish gender, size, body condition or pre-exposure growth rate. After exposure to the cestode, infected fishes grew faster (excluding parasite weight) and maintained a similar or better body condition compared with uninfected fishes, despite developing enlarged spleens. The accelerated growth could not be explained by reduced gonadal development. This result, one of few demonstrations of parasite-associated growth enhancement in fishes, is discussed with respect to other such parasite systems.
This article was published in Proc Biol Sci
and referenced in Journal of Aquaculture Research & Development