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Parasites as prey: the effect of cercarial density and alternative prey on consumption of cercariae by four non-host species



In parasites with complex life cycles the transmission of free-living infective stages can be influenced by ambient community diversity, in particular via predation. Here, we experimentally investigated whether parasite density and the presence of alternative prey can alter predation rates on free-living cercarial stages of a marine trematode by several non-host predators. All four predator species consumed increasing numbers of cercariae with an increase in cercarial density, indicating that the removal of cercariae by predators is effective over a range of natural densities as well as in the presence of alternative prey for a number of predators typical of marine ecosystems. However, the relative removal rates and the effects of cercarial density and alternative prey differed among predator species. In barnacles and shrimps, significant interactive effects of cercarial density and alternative prey on cercarial predation occurred while in oysters and crabs cercarial removal rates were unaffected by both factors. As changes in cercarial densities directly translate into changes in infection levels in down-stream hosts in this parasite–host system, the observed predator-specific responses suggest that cercarial predation effects on disease risks will depend on the specific species composition of ambient communities and not on non-host biodiversity per se.


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*Corresponding author: NIOZ Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research, Department of Coastal Systems, PO Box 59, 1790 AB den Burg, Texel, the Netherlands. E-mail:


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Welsh, J. E., Liddell, C., van der Meer, J. and Thieltges, D. W. (2017). Parasites as prey: the effect of cercarial density and alternative prey on consumption of cercariae by four non-host species. Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research (NIOZ). Dataset


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Parasites as prey: the effect of cercarial density and alternative prey on consumption of cercariae by four non-host species



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