Environmental Biology of Fishes

, Volume 81, Issue 1, pp 29–34 | Cite as

Influence of black spot disease on shoaling behaviour in female western mosquitofish, Gambusia affinis (Poeciliidae, Teleostei)

  • Michael Tobler
  • Ingo Schlupp
Original paper


Parasites can fundamentally alter the cost–benefit ratio of living in a group, e.g. if infected individuals increase the predation risk of shoal mates. Here, the effect of an infection with a trematode, Uvulifer sp. (Diplostomatidae) on the shoaling behaviour of female western mosquitofish, Gambusia affinis, was investigated. The parasite examined causes a direct phenotypical change of the host by forming black spots on its body surface. When given a choice between a stimulus shoal and no shoal, we found shoaling tendencies to be significantly reduced in infected focal fish. In another experiment, we tested for association preferences relative to the infection status of the stimulus fish. Given the choice between an infected and a healthy stimulus fish, both infected and healthy focal fish preferred to associate with non-infected stimulus fish. Our results suggest that (1) the cost–benefit ratio of shoaling might be different for infected and non-infected individuals. Infected fish may be more affected by competition for food within a shoal. (2) Associating with infected conspecifics appears to be costly for female mosquitofish, maybe due to increased predation risk.


Group living Predation Parasites Uvulifer Fish behaviour 



We thank Martin Plath and two anonymous reviewers for comments on an earlier version of the manuscript, Amber Makowicz and Rüdiger Riesch for help in the field and Wendal Porter for providing equipment. This research project was approved by the Animal Care and Use Committee of the University of Oklahoma (AUS R05-014). Texas Parks and Wildlife kindly issued the permit to collect fish (SPR-0305-045). Financial support came from the Basler Foundation for Biological Research, the Janggen-Poehn-Foundation, the Roche Research Foundation, and the Wolfermann-Nägeli-Foundation (to M. T.) as well as the Faculty Senate of the University of Oklahoma (to I.S.).


  1. Barber I, Hoare D, Krause J (2000) Effects of parasites on fish behaviour: a review and evolutionary perspective. Rev Fish Biol Fisher 10:131–165CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Barber I, Huntingford F (1996) Parasite infection alters schooling behaviour: deviant positioning of helminth-infected minnows in conspecific groups. Proc Roy Soc B 263:1095–1102CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bush AO, Fernández JC, Esch GW, Seed JR (2001) Parasitism: the diversity and ecology of animal parasites. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  4. Crowden A, Broom D (1980) Effects of the eyefluke, Diplostomum spathaceum, on the behaviour of dace (Leuciscus cephalus). Anim Behav 28:287–294CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Dadda M, Pilastro A, Bisazza A (2005) Male sexual harassment and female shoaling behaviour in the eastern mosquitofish. Anim Behav 70:463–471CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Dugatkin L, Fitzgerald G, Lavoie J (1994) Juvenile three-spined sticklebacks avoid parasitized conspecifics. Environ Biol Fishes 39:215–218CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Helfman GS, Collette BB, Facey DE (1997) The diversity of fishes. Blackwell Science, Malden, MAGoogle Scholar
  8. Krause J, Godin J-G (1994) Influence of parasitism on the shoaling beahviour of banded killifish, Fundulus diaphanus. Can J Zool 72:1775–1779CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Krause J, Godin J-G (1996) Influence of parasitism on shoal choice in the banded killifish (Fundulus diaphanus, Teleostei, Cyprinodontidae). Ethology 102:40–49CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Krause J, Ruxton G (2002) Living in groups. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  11. Lafferty K (1999) The evolution of trophic transmission. Parasitol Today 15:111–115PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Landeau L, Terborgh J (1986) Oddity and the confusion effect in predation. Anim Behav 34:1372–1380CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Lane RL, Morris JE (2000) Biology, prevention, and effects of common grubs (digenetic trematodes) in freshwater fish. Tech Bull Series Iowa State University 115:1–6Google Scholar
  14. Lemly AD, Esch GW (1984) Effects of the trematode Uvulifer ambloplitis on juvenile blue gill sunfish, Lepomis macrochirus: ecological implications. J Parasitol 70:475–492CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. McRobert S, Bradner J (1998) The influence of body coloration on shoaling preferences in fish. Anim Behav 56:611–615PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Meffe GK, Snelson FF (1989) An ecological overview of poeciliid fishes. In: Meffe GK, Snelson FF (eds) Ecology and evolution of lifebearing fishes (Poeciliidae). Prentice Hall, New Jersey, pp 13–31Google Scholar
  17. Moore J (2002) Parasites and the behaviour of animals. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  18. Pilastro A, Benetton S, Bisazza A (2003) Female aggregation and male competition reduce costs of sexual harassment in the mosquitofish Gambusia holbrooki. Anim Behav 65:1161–1167CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Pyke GH (2005) A review of the biology of Gambusia affinis and G. holbrooki. Rev Fish Biology Fisher 15:339–365CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Schlupp I, Marler C, Ryan MJ (1994) Benefit to male Sailfin mollies of mating with heterospecific females. Science 263:373–374PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Snelson FF (1989) Social and environmental control of life history traits in poeciliid fishes. In: Meffe GK, Snelson FF (eds) Ecology and evolution of lifebearing fishes (Poeciliidae). Prentice Hall, New Jersey, pp 149–161Google Scholar
  22. Spellman SJ, Johnson AD (1987) In vitro encystment of the black spot trematode Uvulifer ambloplitis (Trematoda: Diplostomatidae). Int J Parasitol 17:897–902PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Theodorakis C (1989) Size segregation and the effects of oddity on predation risk in minnow schools. Anim Behav 38:496–502CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Tobler M, Plath M, Burmeister H, Schlupp I (2006) Black spots and female association preferences in a sexual/asexual mating complex (Poecilia, Poeciliidae, Teleostei). Behav Ecol Sociobiol 65:159–165CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of ZoologyUniversity of OklahomaNormanUSA
  2. 2.Institute of ZoologyUniversity of ZurichZurichSwitzerland

Personalised recommendations