Larval amphibian growth and development under varying density: are parasitized individuals poor competitors?
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Population density and infection with parasites often are important factors affecting the growth and development of individuals. How these factors co-occur and interact in nature should have important consequences for individual fitness and higher-order phenomena, such as population dynamics of hosts and their interactions with other species. However, few studies have examined the joint effects of density and parasitism on host growth and development. We examined the co-influences of rearing density and parasitism, by the trematode Echinostoma trivolvis, on the growth and development of larval frogs, Rana (=Lithobates) pipiens. We also examined the potential role of parasite-mediated intraspecific competition by observing how unparasitized individuals performed when housed with other unparasitized tadpoles, versus housing with a combination of unparasitized and parasitized hosts. Mean mass and mean developmental stage were reduced under high rearing densities. The presence of parasitized conspecifics had no significant effect, but there was a significant interaction of density and parasitism presence on host mass, due to the fact that parasitized conspecifics grew poorly at high densities. Unparasitized individuals reared with parasitized and unparasitized conspecifics fared no better than unparasitized individuals reared only with one another. This result indicates that infected hosts compete as much as uninfected hosts for resources, even though infected individuals have reduced mass under high-density conditions. Resource acquisition and resource allocation are different processes, and parasitism, if it only affects the latter, might not have a discernible impact on competitive interactions.
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