Can predators stabilize host-parasite interactions? Changes in aquatic predator identity alters amphibian responses and parasite abundance across life stages
Strasburg, Miranda (2022), Can predators stabilize host-parasite interactions? Changes in aquatic predator identity alters amphibian responses and parasite abundance across life stages, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.2280gb5vt
The role of parasites can change depending on the food web community. Predators, for instance, can amplify or dilute parasite effects on their hosts. Likewise, exposure to parasites or predators at one life stage can have long-term consequences on individual performance and survival, which can influence population and disease dynamics. To understand how predators affect amphibian parasite infections across life stages, we manipulated exposure of northern leopard frog (Rana pipiens) tadpoles to three predators (crayfish [Orconectes rusticus], bluegill [Lepomis macrochirus], or mosquitofish [Gambusia affinis]) and to trematode parasites (Echinostoma spp.) in mesocosms and followed juveniles in outdoor terrestrial enclosures through overwintering. Parasites and predators both had strong impacts on metamorphosis with bluegill and parasites individually reducing metamorph survival. However, when fish were present, the negative effects of parasites on survival were not apparent, likely because fish altered community composition via increased algal food resources. Bluegill also reduced snail abundance, which could explain the reduced abundance of parasites in surviving metamorphs. Bluegill and parasite exposure increased mass at metamorphosis, which increased metamorph jumping, swimming, and feeding performance, suggesting larger frogs would experience better terrestrial survival. Effects on size at metamorphosis persisted in the terrestrial environment but did not influence overwintering survival. Based on our results, we constructed stage-structured population models to evaluate the lethal and sublethal effects of bluegill and parasites on population dynamics. Our models suggested that the positive effects of bluegill and parasites on body size may have greater effects on population growth than the direct effects of mortality. This study illustrates how predators can alter the outcome of parasitic infections and highlights the need for long-term experiments that investigate how changes in host-parasite systems alter population dynamics. We show some predators reduce parasite effects and have indirect positive effects on surviving individuals potentially increasing host population persistence.