Can the behaviour of threespine stickleback parasitized with Schistocephalus solidus be replicated by manipulating host physiology?

Lucie Grecias, François Olivier Hebert, Chloe Suzanne Berger, Iain Barber, Nadia Aubin-Horth*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Citations (SciVal)


Sticklebacks infected by the parasitic flatworm Schistocephalus solidus show dramatic changes in phenotype, including a loss of species-typical behavioural responses to predators. The timing of host behaviour change coincides with the development of infectivity of the parasite to the final host (a piscivorous bird), making it an ideal model for studying the mechanisms of infection-induced behavioural modification. However, whether the loss of host anti-predator behaviour results from direct manipulation by the parasite, or is a by-product (e.g. host immune response) or side effect of infection (e.g. energetic loss), remains controversial. To understand the physiological mechanisms that generate these behavioural changes, we quantified the behavioural profiles of experimentally infected fish and attempted to replicate these in non-parasitized fish by exposing them to treatments including immunity activation and fasting, or by pharmacologically inhibiting the stress axis. All fish were screened for the following behaviours: activity, water depth preference, sociability, phototaxis, anti-predator response and latency to feed. We were able to change individual behaviours with certain treatments. Our results suggest that the impact of S. solidus on the stickleback might be of a multifactorial nature. The behaviour changes observed in infected fish might result from the combined effects of modifying the serotonergic axis, lack of energy and activation of the immune system.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)237-246
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jan 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Fasting
  • Fluoxetine
  • Gasterosteus aculeatus
  • Immunity
  • Manipulation
  • Oxazepam
  • Parasite
  • Serotonin
  • Cestoda/physiology
  • Male
  • Smegmamorpha/immunology
  • Cestode Infections/parasitology
  • Fish Diseases/parasitology
  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal/physiology
  • Female
  • Host-Parasite Interactions


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