Microparasite transmission to Daphnia magna decreases in the presence of conspecifics
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Single parasite species often have a range of different hosts which vary in their ability to sustain the parasite. When foraging for food, alternative hosts with similar feeding modes may compete for the infective stages of trophically transmitted parasites. If some of the infective stages end up in unsuitable hosts, transmission of the parasite to the focal host is decreased. I studied whether the presence of conspecifics alters the probability of an uninfected susceptible recipient Daphnia becoming infected by a microparasite and if this effect depends on whether the added conspecifics themselves are susceptible or resistant to infection. The presence of both susceptible and resistant conspecifics decreased the probability of infection in recipients. This effect was dependent on the density of the conspecifics but was not found to be related to their size. In addition, when Daphnia were placed in medium derived from crowded Daphnia populations, the probability of infection in recipients decreased as compared to that in standard medium. This implies that decreases in transmission probability are not caused by dilution of spores through food competition only, but also by indirect interference mediated through infochemicals released by Daphnia. Since Daphnia have been found to respond to crowding by decreasing their filtering rate, the decrease in transmission is probably caused by decreased intake of spores in crowded conditions. The presence of conspecifics can thus decrease microparasite transmission in Daphnia which may have important consequences for epidemiology and evolution of Daphnia parasites.