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Does the carotenoid-based colouration of Polymorphus minutus facilitate its trophic transmission to definitive hosts?

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 July 2013

Université Pierre et Marie Curie, Sorbonne Universités, CNRS UMR Ecologie & Evolution, Paris, France INRA, USC Écologie des populations et communautés, Paris, France Redpath Museum and Department of Biology, McGill University, Montréal, Québec, Canada
Université Pierre et Marie Curie, Sorbonne Universités, CNRS UMR Ecologie & Evolution, Paris, France INRA, USC Écologie des populations et communautés, Paris, France
Université Pierre et Marie Curie, Sorbonne Universités, CNRS UMR Ecologie & Evolution, Paris, France INRA, USC Écologie des populations et communautés, Paris, France
*Corresponding author: Redpath Museum and Department of Biology, McGill University, 859 Sherbrooke Street West, QC H3A 0C4, Montréal, Québec, Canada. E-mail:


Freshwater gammarids infected with the acanthocephalan parasite Polymorphus minutus show behavioural alterations but also differ from uninfected individuals in their appearance because of the carotenoid-based colouration of the parasite visible through the cuticle. However, it's not clear whether this phenotypic alteration is an adaptation favouring parasite transmission to the definitive host. To test this hypothesis, we investigated the selective preference of mallard towards two prey types: uninfected gammarids on which we applied a dot of inconspicuous brown paint, and uninfected gammarids on which we applied a dot of bright orange paint to mimic the change in appearance due to P. minutus without changes in host behaviour. Mallards showed a significant preference for orange-painted gammarids regardless of how gammarids were distributed (isolated or aggregated). This suggests that parasite's colouration may play a role in enhanced transmission to definitive avian hosts. The role of P. minutus’ colouration in the conspicuousness of gammarids has however to be balanced by the extent to which mallards use visual cues to forage in the field. From the perspective of a multidimensional manipulation, this study suggests that the change in appearance may act synergistically with the changes in behaviour to promote transmission to waterbirds.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2013 

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