Host condition as a constraint for parasite reproduction


  • Otto Seppälä,

  • Katri Liljeroos,

  • Anssi Karvonen,

  • Jukka Jokela

O. Seppälä (, K. Liljeroos and A. Karvonen, Dept of Biological and Environmental Science, PO Box 35, FIN-40014, Univ. of Jyväskylä, Finland. J. Jokela and present address for OS: EAWAG, Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology, and ETH-Zürich, Inst. of Integrative Biology (IBZ), Überlandstrasse 133, PO Box 611, CH-8600, Dübendorf, Switzerland.


Environmental stress has been suggested to increase host susceptibility to infections and reduce host ability to resist parasite growth and reproduction, thus benefiting parasites. This prediction stems from expected costs of immune defence; hosts in poor condition should have less resources to be allocated to immune function. However, the alternative hypothesis for response to environmental stress is that hosts in poor condition provide less resources for parasites and/or suffer higher mortality, leading to reduced parasite growth, reproduction and survival. We contrasted these alternative hypotheses in a trematode–snail (Diplostomum spathaceumLymnaea stagnalis) system by asking: (1) how host condition affects parasite reproduction (amount and quality of produced transmission stages) and (2) how host condition affects the survival of infected host individuals. We experimentally manipulated host condition by starving the snails, and found that parasites produced fewer and poorer quality transmission stages in stressed hosts. Furthermore, starvation increased snail mortality. These findings indicate that in well-established trematode infections, reduced ability of immune allocation has no effect on host exploitation by parasites. Instead, deteriorating resources for the snail host can directly limit the amount of resources available for the parasite. This, together with increased host mortality, may have negative effects on parasite populations in the wild.