Parasite infection directly impacts escape response and stress levels in fish

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Allan, Bridie JM
Illing, Bjoern
Fakan, Eric P
Narvaez, Pauline
Grutter, Alexandra S
Sikkel, Paul C
McClure, Eva C
Rummer, Jodie L
McCormick, Mark
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Parasites can account for a substantial proportion of the biomass in marine communities. As such, parasites play a significant ecological role in ecosystem functioning via host interactions. Unlike macropredators, such as large piscivores, micropredators, such as parasites, rarely cause direct mortality. Rather, micropredators impose an energetic tax, thus significantly affecting host physiology and behaviour via sublethal effects. Recent research suggests that infection by gnathiid isopods (Crustacea) causes significant physiological stress and increased mortality rates. However, it is unclear whether infection causes changes in the behaviours that underpin escape responses or changes in routine activity levels. Moreover, it is poorly understood whether the cost of gnathiid infection manifests as an increase in cortisol. To investigate this, we examined the effect of experimental gnathiid infection on the swimming and escape performance of a newly settled coral reef fish and whether infection led to increased cortisol levels. We found that micropredation by a single gnathiid caused fast-start escape performance and swimming behaviour to significantly decrease and cortisol levels to double. Fast-start escape performance is an important predictor of recruit survival in the wild. As such, altered fitness-related traits and short-term stress, perhaps especially during early life stages, may result in large scale changes in the number of fish that successfully recruit to adult populations.

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Journal of Experimental Biology
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Biological sciences
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Escape performance
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Allan, BJM; Illing, B; Fakan, EP; Narvaez, P; Grutter, AS; Sikkel, PC; McClure, EC; Rummer, JL; McCormick, M, Parasite infection directly impacts escape response and stress levels in fish, Journal of Experimental Biology, 2020, 223 (16)