Do highly ornamented and less parasitized males have high quality sperm? - an experimental test for parasite-induced reproductive trade-offs in European minnow (Phoxinus phoxinus)

Ecol Evol. 2014 Nov;4(22):4237-46. doi: 10.1002/ece3.1267. Epub 2014 Oct 21.


Parasites take their resources from hosts and thus directly reduce available resources for hosts' own body functions, such as growth and reproduction. Furthermore, parasite infections cause significant indirect costs to their hosts in terms of increased investments on immune defense. In this study, we investigated the impact of parasite infection on the sperm quality and expression of secondary sexual ornamentation (saturation of the red abdominal colouration and number of breeding tubercles) in the Eurasian minnow (Phoxinus phoxinus). We exposed minnows to a high and low dose of common nonspecific fish ectoparasite, the glochidia larvae of duck mussel (Anodonta anatina) and tested whether parasite infection leads to trade-off in sperm quality and/or ornamental expression. We found that glochidia infection reduces the curvature of the sperm swimming trajectory, number of breeding tubercles, and possibly male competitive ability, but does not affect expression of male color ornamentation. Furthermore, glochidia infection was found to reduce sperm motility, but only when all the noninfected individuals were excluded from the model. Supporting one of the predictions by phenotype-linked fertility hypothesis both in high-infection and low-infection group male breeding colouration was positively associated with sperm quality. Our results suggest that although glochidia infection may have negative impact on male reproductive success, parasite-induced costs may not create strong trade-off between breeding colouration and sperm quality or that such trade-off become detectable only in resource-limited conditions.

Keywords: Fertility; parasite; reproduction; secondary sexual ornamentation; sperm; trade-off.