What doesn't kill you doesn't make you stronger: parasites modify interference competition between two invasive amphipods.
We used a freshwater amphipod-microsporidian model (Ponto-Caspian hosts: Dikerogammarus villosus and D. haemobaphes, parasite: Cucumispora dikerogammari) to check whether parasites affect biological invasions by modulating behaviour and intra- and interspecific interactions between the invaders. We tested competition for shelter in conspecific and heterospecific male pairs (one or both individuals infected or non-infected). In general, amphipods of both species increased their shelter occupancy time when accompanied by infected rather than non-infected conspecifics and heterospecifics. Infected amphipods faced lower aggression from non-infected conspecifics. Moreover, D. villosus was more aggressive than D. haemobaphes and more aggressive towards conspecifics vs. heterospecifics. In summary, infection reduced the intra- and interspecific competitivity of amphipods, which became less capable of defending their shelters, despite their unchanged need for shelter occupancy. Dikerogammarus haemobaphes, commonly considered as a weaker competitor, displaced by D. villosus from co-occupied locations, was able to compete efficiently for the shelter with D. villosus when microsporidian infections appeared on the scene. This suggests that parasites may be important mediators of biological invasions, facilitating the existence of large intra- and interspecific assemblages of invasive alien amphipods.