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The missing host hypothesis: do chemical cues from predators induce life cycle truncation of trematodes within their fish host?


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Using controlled experiments, the ability of the trematode parasite Stegodexamene anguillae, encysted within its intermediate fish host, the common bully Gobiomorphus cotidianus, was tested to indirectly detect the presence of its definitive host by exposing infected G. cotidianus to chemical cues from the definitive host, the short-finned eel Anguilla australis. The trematode can abbreviate its normal life cycle and achieve precocious maturity in G. cotidianus, or adopt the usual strategy consisting in delaying maturity until it reaches an A. australis. The results suggest that chemical cues from the definitive A. australis host do not affect the frequency of life cycle abbreviation in S. anguillae. Other life-history traits, such as parasite body size or the egg output of early-maturing parasites, were also unaffected by chemical cues from A. australis or from an alternative predator of G. cotidianus, the perch Perca fluviatilis, that is not a suitable host for the trematode. Therefore, factors other than A. australis host presence or abundance may be the important selective forces for life cycle abbreviation in this fish parasite.