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Parasitology. 2001 Nov;123(Pt 5):519-29.

Host manipulation by Ligula intestinalis: accident or adaptation?

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  • 1Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge, UK. brown@isem.univ-montp2.fr


Numerous studies have demonstrated that parasites with complex life-cycles can cause phenotypic modifications in their hosts that lead to an increased rate of transmission, and suggest that these modifications are the result of parasitic adaptations to manipulate the host. Little attention is paid, however, to separating the possibility of adaptive host manipulation from incidental (if fortuitous) side-effects of infection. In this study we combine statistical and analytical tools to interpret the impact of the macroparasite Ligula intestinalis L. (Cestoda, Pseudophyllidea) on the behaviour of its intermediate fish host (the roach, Rutilus rutilus L.), using field data on a natural system. Two distinct sets of generalized linear models agree that both the presence and the intensity of infection contribute to a modified behavioural response in the host. This was illustrated by a preference for the lake-edge in infected fish during autumn. Furthermore, the effect of parasites upon their host is heterogeneous with respect to parasite size, with larger parasite individuals having a disproportionate impact. A series of game-theoretic models of adaptive host manipulation illustrate a potential rationale for a size-dependent manipulation strategy in parasites. These findings illustrate the potential complexity and functionality of the impact of L. intestinalis upon its fish host, which together reduce the parsimony of the alternative 'incidental effect' hypothesis.

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