How Ponto-Caspian invaders affect local parasite communities of native fish.
Invasive species are a major threat to ecosystems worldwide. Their effects are versatile and mostly well studied. However, not much is known about the impact of invasion on native parasite communities, although parasites are usually important response variables for ecosystem health. To improve the knowledge on how native fish parasite communities and their dynamics are affected by invasive species and how these processes change local host-parasite interactions over time, we studied different host-parasite systems in four German rivers. Three of these rivers (Rhine, Ems, and Elbe) are heavily invaded by different Ponto-Caspian species such as the amphipod Dikerogammarus villosus and various gobiids such as Neogobius melanostomus and Ponticola kessleri that serve as potential hosts for different local parasite species, while the fourth river (Schwentine) was free of any Ponto-Caspian invaders. Due to the lack of additional uninvaded river systems, literature data on parasite communities before invasion were compared with the post invasion status for the rivers Rhine and Elbe. The results showed differences among the parasite communities of different host species from the three invaded rivers when compared to the Schwentine River. Among the local internal parasite communities, especially the acanthocephalan Pomphorhynchus laevis and the nematode Raphidascaris acus have to be considered as key species associated with invasions from the Ponto-Caspian region. As the examined invasive Ponto-Caspian fish species serves as suitable host for both parasite species, the increases in their infection rates in native fish species are examples of parasite spill back (R. acus) and spill over (P. laevis, at least in the river Rhine). These results were further supported by the analysis of literature data on parasite communities of the past 20 years. Consequences for local parasite communities range from decreased prevalence of native parasites towards an extinction of entire parasite species.