Host Density and Competency Determine the Effects of Host Diversity on Trematode Parasite Infection
Variation in host species composition can dramatically alter parasite transmission in natural communities. Whether diverse host communities dilute or amplify parasite transmission is thought to depend critically on species traits, particularly on how hosts affect each other’s densities, and their relative competency as hosts. Here we studied a community of potential hosts and/or decoys (i.e. non-competent hosts) for two trematode parasite species, Echinostoma trivolvis and Ribeiroia ondatrae, which commonly infect wildlife across North America. We manipulated the density of a focal host (green frog tadpoles, Rana clamitans), in concert with manipulating the diversity of alternative species, to simulate communities where alternative species either (1) replace the focal host species so that the total number of individuals remains constant (substitution) or (2) add to total host density (addition). For E. trivolvis, we found that total parasite transmission remained roughly equal (or perhaps decreased slightly) when alternative species replaced focal host individuals, but parasite transmission was higher when alternative species were added to a community without replacing focal host individuals. Given the alternative species were roughly equal in competency, these results are consistent with current theory. Remarkably, both total tadpole and per-capita tadpole infection intensity by E. trivolvis increased with increasing intraspecific host density. For R. ondatrae, alternative species did not function as effective decoys or hosts for parasite infective stages, and the diversity and density treatments did not produce clear changes in parasite transmission, although high tank to tank variation in R. ondatrae infection could have obscured patterns.