Eaten alive: cannibalism is enhanced by parasites

Mandy Bunke, Mhairi E. Alexander, Jaimie T.A. Dick, Melanie J. Hatcher, Rachel Paterson, Alison M. Dunn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)


Cannibalism is ubiquitous in nature and especially pervasive in consumers with stage-specific resource utilization in resource-limited environments. Cannibalism is thus influential in the structure and functioning of biological communities. Parasites are also pervasive in nature and, we hypothesize, might affect cannibalism since infection can alter host foraging behaviour. We investigated the effects of a common parasite, the microsporidian Pleistophora mulleri, on the cannibalism rate of its host, the freshwater amphipod Gammarus duebeni celticus. Parasitic infection increased the rate of cannibalism by adults towards uninfected juvenile conspecifics, as measured by adult functional responses, that is, the rate of resource uptake as a function of resource density. This may reflect the increased metabolic requirements of the host as driven by the parasite. Furthermore, when presented with a choice, uninfected adults preferred to cannibalize uninfected rather than infected juvenile conspecifics, probably reflecting selection pressure to avoid the risk of parasite acquisition. By contrast, infected adults were indiscriminate with respect to infection status of their victims, probably owing to metabolic costs of infection and the lack of risk as the cannibals were already infected. Thus parasitism, by enhancing cannibalism rates, may have previously unrecognized effects on stage structure and population dynamics for cannibalistic species and may also act as a selective pressure leading to changes in resource use.
Original languageEnglish
Article number140369
Number of pages1
JournalRoyal Society open science
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • amphipod
  • behaviour
  • cannibalism
  • parasitism


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