Commensalism or mutualism: conditional outcomes in a branchiobdellid–crayfish symbiosis
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- Lee, J.H., Kim, T.W. & Choe, J.C. Oecologia (2009) 159: 217. doi:10.1007/s00442-008-1195-7
A growing body of evidence suggests that the costs and benefits involved in cleaning interactions can vary over space and time depending on the environmental conditions. However, whether the same cleaners actually induce variable net outcomes in terms of host fitness remains unclear to date. Branchiobdellid annelids are generally regarded as commensals or rarely parasites of their freshwater crayfish hosts, but a recent study suggests that they may also function as cleaning organisms. Under natural conditions, crayfish can experience fouling of the exposed surfaces of their exoskeletons and their gills (e.g., epibiosis) by various epibionts and particles of organic debris, and branchiobdellids graze on these sources of fouling. Here, we examined the extent to which variation in fouling pressure in the environment alters the outcome of the interaction between branchiobdellids and their crayfish host Cambaroide similis. A series of manipulations were performed in artificial environments designed to simulate either high or low fouling pressure. We used crayfish growth rates and mortality as direct measurements of the net costs and benefits of cleaning. Branchiobdellids had no significant effect on crayfish growth or mortality when cultured under low fouling pressure. However, their presence had a significant positive impact on host growth rates when cultured under high fouling pressure. These results suggest that the relationship between crayfish and branchiobdellids can fluctuate between commensalism and mutualism depending mainly on the environmental fouling pressure. We hypothesize that the outcome of cleaning interactions may largely depend on the factors directly related to the need for cleaning, such as parasite loads or fouling pressure.