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Parasites pitched against nature: Pitch Lake water protects guppies (Poecilia reticulata) from microbial and gyrodactylid infections



The enemy release hypothesis proposes that in parasite depleted habitats, populations will experience relaxed selection and become more susceptible (or less tolerant) to pathogenic infections. Here, we focus on a population of guppies (Poecilia reticulata) that are found in an extreme environment (the Pitch Lake, Trinidad) and examine whether this habitat represents a refuge from parasites. We investigated the efficacy of pitch in preventing microbial infections in Pitch Lake guppies, by exposing them to dechlorinated water, and reducing gyrodactylid infections on non-Pitch Lake guppies by transferring them to Pitch Lake water. We show that (i) natural prevalence of ectoparasites in the Pitch Lake is low compared to reference populations, (ii) Pitch Lake guppies transferred into aquarium water develop microbial infections, and (iii) experimentally infected guppies are cured of their gyrodactylid infections both by natural Pitch Lake water and by dechlorinated water containing solid pitch. These results indicate a role for Pitch Lake water in the defence of guppies from their parasites and suggest that Pitch Lake guppies might have undergone enemy release in this extreme environment. The Pitch Lake provides an ideal ecosystem for studies on immune gene evolution in the absence of parasites and long-term evolutionary implications of hydrocarbon pollution for vertebrates.


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*Corresponding author: School of Biosciences, Cardiff University, Cardiff CF10 3AX, UK. Tel: + + 44 (0) 20 298 76022. Fax: +44 (0)29 208 74116. E-mail:


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