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Cercarial behaviour alters the consumer functional response of three-spined sticklebacks


Born-Torrijos, Ana et al. (2021), Cercarial behaviour alters the consumer functional response of three-spined sticklebacks, Dryad, Dataset,


1. Free-living parasite life stages may contribute substantially to ecosystem biomass and thus represent a significant source of energy flow when consumed by non-host organisms. However, ambient temperature and the predator’s own infection status may modulate consumption rates towards parasite prey.

2. We investigated the combined effects of temperature and predator infection status on the consumer functional response of three-spined sticklebacks towards the free-living cercariae stages of two common freshwater trematode parasites (Plagiorchis, Trichobilharzia).

3. Our results revealed genera-specific functional responses and consumption rates towards each parasite prey: Type II for Plagiorchis and Type III for Trichobilharzia, with an overall higher consumption rate on Trichobilharzia. Elevated temperature (13 ºC) increased the consumption rate on Plagiorchis prey for sticklebacks with mild cestode infections (<5% fish body weight) only.

4. High consumption of cercarial prey by sticklebacks may impact parasite population dynamics by severely reducing or even functionally eliminating free-living parasite life stages from the environment. This supports the potential role of fish as biocontrol agents for cercariae with similar dispersion strategies, in instances where functional response relationships have been established.

5. Our study demonstrates how parasite consumption by non-host organisms may be shaped by traits inherent to parasite transmission and dispersal, and emphasizes the need to consider free-living parasite life stages as integral energy resources in aquatic food webs.