The use of naturally infected hosts in studies attempting to identify parasite-induced changes in host biology is problematical because it does not eliminate the possibility that infection may be a consequence, rather than a cause, of host trait variation. In addition, uncontrolled concomitant infections may confound results. In this study we experimentally infected individual laboratory-bred female three-spined sticklebacks Gasterosteus aculeatus L. with the pseudophyllidean cestode Schistocephalus solidus [Müller], and compared the morphology and growth patterns of infected females with sham-exposed controls over a 16-week period. Fish were fed a ration of 8% body weight per day. Non-invasive image analysis techniques allowed the growth of individual plerocercoids to be tracked in vivo throughout the course of infection, and patterns of host and parasite growth were determined. Females that developed infections diverged morphometrically from unexposed control females and exposed-uninfected females at 6 weeks post-infection, with the width of the body at the pectoral fins giving the earliest indication of infection success. When including the plerocercoid, infected females gained weight more quickly than controls, but when plerocercoid weight was removed this trend was reversed. There was no effect of infection on the increase in fish length. Plerocercoids grew at different rates in individual hosts, and exhibited measurable sustained weight increases of up to 10% per day. Final estimates of plerocercoid weight from morphometric analysis prior to autopsy were accurate to within +/[minus sign]17% of actual plerocercoid weight. At autopsy, infected female sticklebacks had significantly lower perivisceral fat reserves but had developed significantly larger ovaries than controls. The results are discussed in relation to previous studies examining natural infections, and the value of utilizing experimental infections to examine ecological aspects of host–parasite interactions is discussed.
|Number of pages||9|
|Publication status||Published - 2003|