Variations in infection levels and parasite-induced mortality among sympatric cryptic lineages of native amphipods and a congeneric invasive species: are native hosts always losing?
Shared parasites can strongly influence the outcome of competition between congeneric, sympatric hosts, and thus host population dynamics. Parasite-mediated competition is commonly hypothesized as an important factor in biological invasion success; invasive species often experience lower infection levels and/or parasite-induced mortality than native congeneric hosts. However, variation in infection levels among sympatric hosts can be due to contrasting abilities to avoid infection or different parasite-induced mortality rates following infection. Low parasite infection levels in a specific host can be due to either factor but have drastically different implications in interaction outcomes between sympatric hosts. We assessed acanthocephalan infection levels (prevalence and abundance) among cryptic molecular taxonomic units (MOTU) of the native G. pulex/G. fossarum species complex from multiple populations where they occur in sympatry. We concomitantly estimated the same parameters in the invasive Gammarus roeseli commonly found in sympatry with G. pulex/G. fossarum MOTUs. We then tested for potential differences in parasite-induced mortality among these alternative hosts. As expected, the invasive G. roeseli showed relatively low infection level and was not subject to parasite-induced mortality. We also found that both acanthocephalan infection levels and parasite-induced mortality varied greatly among cryptic MOTUs of the native amphipods. Contrary to expectations, some native MOTUs displayed levels of resistance to their local parasites similar to those observed in the invasive G. roeseli. Overall, cryptic diversity in native amphipods coupled with high levels of variability in infection levels and parasite-induced mortality documented here may strongly influence inter-MOTU interactions and native population dynamics as well as invasion success and population dynamics of the congeneric invasive G. roeseli.