A comparison of the behavioural responses of parasitized and non-parasitized three-spined sticklebacks, Gasterosteus aculeatus L., to progressive hypoxia.
Eighty sticklebacks (32 parasitized, 48 uninfected) were subjected to a serial reduction in dissolved oxygen (DO) concentration until they showed continuous aquatic surface respiration for longer than 10s (> 10s ASR). An analysis of results showed that (1) parasitized adult male and female sticklebacks reacted to low DO significantly earlier than non-parasitized controls; (2) severity of parasite infection was significantly correlated with DO at which > 10s ASR occurred; (3) gravid, non-parasitized females show ASR at a relatively high DO, with a threshold response similar to that of parasitized fish.
It is suggested that the metabolic respiratory demand of the parasitic tapeworm larvae causes the stickleback to modify its behaviour at lowered DO. This behavioural modification causes the fish to surface, where they are likely to be at risk from predatory birds. Field data on DO levels at the study site show that environmental conditions in the shallow lake margins approach the range required to affect the behaviour of heavily parasitized sticklebacks.