Author(s): Mouritsen KN, Poulin R
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Abstract There is mounting evidence that parasites can influence the composition and structure of natural animal communities. In spite of this, it is difficult to assess just how important parasitism is for community structure because very few studies have been designed specifically to address the role of parasites at the community level, no doubt because it is difficult to manipulate the abundance of parasites in field experiments. Here, we bring together a large amount of published information on parasitism in intertidal communities to highlight the potential influence of parasites on the structure and biodiversity of these communities. We first review the impact of metazoan parasites on the survival, reproduction, growth and behaviour of intertidal invertebrates, from both rocky shores and soft-sediment flats. Published evidence suggests that the impact of parasites on individuals is often severe, though their effects at the population level are dependent on prevalence and intensity of infection. We then put this information together in a discussion of the impact of parasitism at the community level. We emphasize two ways in which parasites can modify the structure of intertidal communities. First, the direct impact of parasites on the abundance of key host species can decrease the importance of these hosts in competition or predator-prey interactions with other species. Second, the indirect effects of parasites on the behaviour of their hosts, e.g. burrowing ability or spatial distribution within the intertidal zone, can cause changes to various features of the habitat for other intertidal species, leading to their greater settlement success or to their local disappearance. Our synthesis allows specific predictions to be made regarding the potential impact of parasites in certain intertidal systems, and suggests that parasites must be included in future community studies and food web models of intertidal ecosystems.
This article was published in Parasitology
and referenced in Journal of Coastal Zone Management