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Sex-selective Predation by Threespine Sticklebacks on Sea Lice: A Novel Cleaning Behaviour


Craig J.C. Losos, Behavioural Ecology Research Group, Department of Biological Sciences, Simon Fraser University, 8888 University Dr., Burnaby, BC, Canada V5A 1S6.


Cleaning interactions have been described in a wide range of fish species and other taxa. We observed a novel cleaning behaviour during a study of the transmission dynamics of sea lice (Lepeophtheirus salmonis) between juvenile pink salmon (Oncorhynchus gorbuscha) and threespine sticklebacks (Gasterosteus aculeatus) in the Broughton Archipelago, British Columbia, Canada. Experiments showed that sticklebacks significantly reduced the number of sea lice on individual juvenile salmon. Adult female lice were preferentially consumed by sticklebacks, and gravid female lice also experienced egg string cropping. Overall, 76% of gravid female lice experienced either consumption, egg string cropping, or both by sticklebacks. This preference by sticklebacks for female parasites may stem from female lice being larger than males and the added nutritional value of egg strings on gravid females. Cleaning by sticklebacks can potentially have an impact on sea louse populations on wild juvenile salmon.