Fecundity compensation and fecundity reduction among populations of the three-spined stickleback infected by Schistocephalus solidus in Alaska

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We surveyed nine populations of the three-spined stickleback infected by the diphyllobothriidean cestode Schistocephalus solidus from south-central Alaska for two apparent forms of tolerance to infection in females capable of producing egg clutches notwithstanding large parasite burdens. Seven populations exhibited fecundity reduction, whereas two populations showed fecundity compensation. Our data suggest that fecundity reduction, a side effect resulting from nutrient theft, occurs in two phases of host response influenced by the parasite: host body mass (BM) ratio. The first is significantly reduced ovum mass without significant reduction in clutch size, and the second one involves significant reductions in both ovum mass and clutch size. Thus, ovum mass of host females who are functionally being starved through nutrient theft seems to be more readily influenced by parasitism and, therefore, decreased before clutch size is reduced. This inference is consistent with expectations based on the biology of and effect of feeding ration on reproduction in stickleback females. Fecundity compensation appears to be uncommon among populations of three-spined stickleback in Alaska and rare among populations throughout the northern hemisphere. Fecundity reduction seems to be common, at least among stickleback populations in Alaska.

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