Parasites grow larger in faster growing fish hosts

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55 Citations (Scopus)


Parasites depend on host-derived energy for growth and development, and so are potentially affected by the host's ability to acquire nutrients under competitive foraging scenarios. Although parasites might be expected to grow faster in hosts that are better at acquiring nutrients from natural ecosystems, it is also possible that the most competitive hosts are better at countering infections, if they have an improved immune response or are able to limit the availability of nutrients to parasites. I first quantified the ability of uninfected three-spined sticklebacks Gasterosteus aculeatus to compete in groups for sequentially-presented food items, and then exposed either the best or worst competitors to infective stages of the cestode Schistocephalus solidus. Fish were subsequently raised in their original groups, under competitive feeding regimes, for 96 days, after which fish and parasite growth was determined. Unexpectedly, pre-exposure host competitive ability had no effect on susceptibility to infection, or on post-infection growth rate. Furthermore, despite a 120-fold variation in parasite mass at the end of the study, pre-infection competitive ability was not related to parasite growth. The closest predictor of parasite mass was body size-corrected host growth rate, indicating that the fastest growing fish developed the largest parasites. Faster growing hosts therefore apparently provide ideal environments for growing parasites. This finding has important implications for ecology and aquaculture.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)137-143
Number of pages7
JournalInternational Journal for Parasitology
Issue number2
Early online date24 Dec 2004
Publication statusPublished - 01 Feb 2005


  • stickleback
  • Schistocephalus solidus
  • competitive ability
  • fitness
  • host-parasite relationships
  • growth


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