First evidence for a possible invasional meltdown among invasive fish parasites
Biological invasions are frequently studied topics in ecological research. Unfortunately, within invasion ecology parasite-associated aspects such as parasite impacts on new environments and on local host populations are less well-studied. Round gobies migrating from the Ponto-Caspian region into the Rhine River system are heavily infested with the Ponto-Caspian acanthocephalan parasite Pomphorhynchus laevis. As shown by experimental infestations the acanthocephalans occur as pre-adults in host-encapsulated cysts within the internal organs of the migrating gobies, but remain infective for their definitive host chub. Recently, we described the occurrence of larvae of another parasite, the invasive eel swim bladder nematode Anguillicola crassus, in these Pomphorhynchus cysts. In the present study, we could prove the infectivity of the nematode larvae for European eels for the first time. After experimental inoculation of Pomphorhynchus cysts occasionally infested with A. crassus larvae, the nematodes grow to maturity and reproduce whereas all P. laevis were unviable. We therefore postulate that the nematode larvae behave like immunological hitchhikers that follow a “Trojan horse strategy” in order to avoid the paratenic host’s immune response. Accordingly, the interaction between both invasive parasites gives first evidence that the invasional meltdown hypothesis may also apply to parasites.