MEPS 399:199-209 (2010)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps08352

Parasite-like associations in rocky intertidal assemblages: implications for escalated gastropod defenses

Jonathan A. D. Fisher*

Department of Biology, University of Pennsylvania, 433 South University Avenue, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19104-6018, USA
Present address: Department of Biology, Queen’s University, 116 Barrie Street, Kingston, Ontario K7L 3N6, Canada
Mailing address: Ocean Sciences Division, Bedford Institute of Oceanography, 1 Challenger Drive, PO Box 1006, Dartmouth, Nova Scotia B2Y 4A2, Canada

ABSTRACT: Escalated prey defenses occur within multi-species assemblages but are largely evaluated by considering only direct interactions between predator and prey. If additional species compromise prey defenses, they might indirectly facilitate predation. Since the introduction of green crabs Carcinus maenas in the northwest Atlantic, many intertidal mollusks including the dogwhelk Nucella lapillus have acquired shell traits that have been interpreted as escalated defenses against this shell-crushing predator. I examined whether ‘parasite-like’ spionid polychaetes (Polydora sp.), which bore into and reside in dogwhelk shells but feed externally, indirectly facilitated predation by crabs. Small collections of dogwhelks from 19 sites around the Gulf of Maine (USA) revealed Polydora infestations at 16 sites. Intensive collections at 1 site showed that Polydora disproportionately infested large dogwhelks that are normally most resistant to predation. Presenting paired non-infested and fully-infested (Polydora bore holes in shell spire and siphonal canal) dogwhelks to individual crabs revealed that fully-infested individuals had significantly shorter times until first observed handling and shorter survival durations. In trials where single dogwhelks survived, they were always non-infested and their shell size scaled positively with crab size. These results suggest that Polydora increased both the size-specific susceptibility of dogwhelks to predation and the critical size of snails vulnerable to a given sized crab. Although Polydora altered this predator–prey interaction, mechanical tests showed no significant effect of Polydora on shell strength, so mechanical tests alone are not a reliable way to evaluate defensive traits. Since prey defenses can be modified by additional species, evaluations of changing shell defenses must consider both direct and indirect interactions.


KEY WORDS: Predation · Parasitism · Morphological defenses · Direct and indirect effects · Shell size · Introduced species


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Cite this article as: Fisher JAD (2010) Parasite-like associations in rocky intertidal assemblages: implications for escalated gastropod defenses. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 399:199-209. https://doi.org/10.3354/meps08352

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