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Are parasite richness and abundance linked to prey species richness and individual feeding preferences in fish hosts?

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  17 November 2015

Centre for Integrative Ecology, School of Biological Sciences, University of Canterbury, Private Bag 4800, Christchurch 8140, New Zealand
Centre for Integrative Ecology, School of Biological Sciences, University of Canterbury, Private Bag 4800, Christchurch 8140, New Zealand
Department of Zoology, University of Otago, 340 Great King Street, PO Box 56, Dunedin 9054, New Zealand
Department of Zoology, University of Otago, 340 Great King Street, PO Box 56, Dunedin 9054, New Zealand
*Corresponding author: Department of Zoology, University of Otago, 340 Great King Street, PO Box 56, Dunedin 9054, New Zealand. E-mail:


Variations in levels of parasitism among individuals in a population of hosts underpin the importance of parasites as an evolutionary or ecological force. Factors influencing parasite richness (number of parasite species) and load (abundance and biomass) at the individual host level ultimately form the basis of parasite infection patterns. In fish, diet range (number of prey taxa consumed) and prey selectivity (proportion of a particular prey taxon in the diet) have been shown to influence parasite infection levels. However, fish diet is most often characterized at the species or fish population level, thus ignoring variation among conspecific individuals and its potential effects on infection patterns among individuals. Here, we examined parasite infections and stomach contents of New Zealand freshwater fish at the individual level. We tested for potential links between the richness, abundance and biomass of helminth parasites and the diet range and prey selectivity of individual fish hosts. There was no obvious link between individual fish host diet and helminth infection levels. Our results were consistent across multiple fish host and parasite species and contrast with those of earlier studies in which fish diet and parasite infection were linked, hinting at a true disconnect between host diet and measures of parasite infections in our study systems. This absence of relationship between host diet and infection levels may be due to the relatively low richness of freshwater helminth parasites in New Zealand and high host–parasite specificity.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2015 

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