Host-dependent differences in resource use associated with Anilocra spp. parasitism in two coral reef fishes, as revealed by stable carbon and nitrogen isotope analyses

09 June 2017

The role of parasites in trophic ecology is poorly understood in marine ecosystems. Stable isotope analyses (SIA) have been widely used in studies of trophic ecology, but have rarely been applied to study the role of parasites. Considering that some parasites are associated with altered host foraging patterns, SIA can help elucidate whether parasitism influences host trophic interactions. French grunt (Haemulon flavolineatum), an abundant Caribbean coral reef fish, contributes greatly to trophic connectivity. They typically depart the reef at dusk, feed overnight in seagrass beds, and return to the reef at dawn. The large parasitic isopod Anilocra haemuli commonly infects French grunt, and infected fish are less likely to complete their diel migration, and are in poorer condition than uninfected conspecifics. Brown chromis (Chromis multilineata) are diurnally feeding planktivores and infection by Anilocra chromis does not influence host condition. To determine if Anilocra infection influences host diet and foraging locality, we conducted stable carbon and nitrogen isotope analyses on scale, muscle, heart and gill tissues of infected and uninfected French grunt and brown chromis. We determined that all French grunt had δ13C values representative of seagrass habitats, but infected French grunt were significantly enriched in 13C and 15N compared to uninfected conspecifics. This suggests that compared to uninfected conspecifics, infected French grunt forage in seagrass, but on isotopically enriched prey, and/or are in poorer condition, which can elevate δ13C and δ15N values. For brown chromis, infection did not significantly influence any δ13C and δ15N values; hence they all foraged in the same environment and on similar prey. This is the first study to use SIA to examine differences in resource use by Caribbean coral reef fishes associated with parasitism and to evaluate how closely related parasites might have host-dependent effects on host trophic ecology