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Costs of intraspecific and interspecific host sharing in acanthocephalan cystacanths

  • B. S. DEZFULI (a1), L. GIARI (a1) and R. POULIN (a2)


Larval helminths often share individual intermediate hosts with other larval worms of the same or different species. In the case of immature acanthocephalans capable of altering the phenotype of their intermediate hosts, the benefits or costs of host sharing can be evaluated in terms of increased or decreased probability of transmission to a suitable definitive host. Competitive interactions among the immature stages of acanthocephalans within the intermediate host could create additional costs of host sharing, however. The effects of intraspecific and interspecific interactions were measured in 3 sympatric species of acanthocephalans exploiting a population of the amphipod Echinogammarus stammeri in the River Brenta, Italy. The strength of interactions was assessed from differences in the size achieved by infective cystacanths in the intermediate host. The size of Pomphorhynchus laevis cystacanths was not correlated with host size, whereas the size of Acanthocephalus clavula and Polymorphus minutus cystacanths increased with host size. Reductions in cystacanth size caused by intraspecific competition were only detected in P. laevis, but may also occur in both A. clavula and P. minutus. When co-occurring in the same amphipod with cystacanths of A. clavula, cystacanths of P. laevis attained a smaller size than when they occurred on their own. This effect was not reciprocal, with the size of A. clavula cystacanths not being affected. This supports earlier suggestions that it is adaptive for A. clavula to associate with P. laevis in amphipod intermediate hosts, with both species going to the same fish definitive hosts. In contrast, cystacanths of P. laevis achieved their largest size when they co-occurred in an amphipod with a cystacanth of P. minutus, which has a different definitive host (i.e. birds). These findings suggest that the net benefits of sharing an intermediate host can only be estimated by taking into account both the effects on transmission success and the consequences for cystacanth development.


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Corresponding author: Department of Zoology, University of Otago, P.O. Box 56, Dunedin, New Zealand. Tel: +64 3 479 7983. Fax: +64 3 479 7584. E-mail:


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Costs of intraspecific and interspecific host sharing in acanthocephalan cystacanths

  • B. S. DEZFULI (a1), L. GIARI (a1) and R. POULIN (a2)


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