Evol Ecol Res 9: 239-259 (2007)     Full PDF if your library subscribes.

The co-evolutionary relationship between bitterling fishes and freshwater mussels: insights from interspecific comparisons

Martin Reichard,1,2* Huanzhang Liu3 and Carl Smith1

1Department of Biology, University of Leicester, University Road, Leicester LE1 7RH, UK,  2Institute of Vertebrate Biology, Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, Kvĕtná 8, 603 65 Brno, Czech Republic and  3Institute of Hydrobiology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Wuhan, People’s Republic of China

Address all correspondence to M. Reichard, Institute of Vertebrate Biology, Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, Kvĕtná 8, 603 65 Brno, Czech Republic.
e-mail: reichard@brno.cas.cz


Hypothesis: In parasites that use hosts for offspring development, adults may base oviposition decisions on a range of host traits related either to host quality or the co-evolutionary relationship between parasite and host. We examined whether host quality or co-evolutionary dynamics drive the use of hosts in the bitterling–mussel relationship.

Organisms: Six species of bitterling fish (Acheilognathinae) and eight species of freshwater mussels (Unionidae, Corbiculidae) that are used by bitterling for oviposition.

Site of experiments: Experimental tanks in Wuhan, China, at the site of the natural distribution of the studied species.

Methods: Three experiments that controlled for host accessibility and interspecific interactions were conducted to identify host preferences among bitterling fishes and their mussel hosts. We started with a broad interspecific comparison. We then tested bitterling behavioural choices, their temporal stability, and mussel host ejection behaviour of the eggs of generalist and specialist bitterling species. Finally, we measured host mussel quality based on respiration rate and used published studies on mussel gill structure to infer mussel suitability as hosts for bitterling eggs.

Results: We found significant interspecific differences among bitterling species in their use of mussel hosts. Bitterling species varied in their level of host specificity and identity of preferred hosts. Host preferences were flexible even among apparently specialized species and fishes switched their preferences adaptively when the quality of individuals of preferred host species declined. Mussels varied considerably in their response to oviposition through egg ejections. Host preference by a generalist bitterling species correlated positively with host quality measured as the efficiency of the mussel gills to extract oxygen from inhaled water. Host ability to eject bitterling eggs correlated positively with their relative respiration rate, probably due to a higher velocity of water circulating in the mussel gill chamber.

Keywords: brood parasitism, co-evolution, egg ejection, host–parasite relationship, mutualism, oviposition, specialization, symbiosis.

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