|Top: A heavily infected amphipod
Bottom: Spores of C. dikerogammari
Photo from here
Dikerogammarus villosus is an amphipod (a little, shrimp-like crustacean) from the Ponto-Caspian that has invaded western and central Europe, and is now also found in the United Kingdom. They might only grow up to a little over an inch long, but they are voracious little predators that eat everything smaller than themselves, including each other. Released from their usual predators and parasites, D. villosus rips through the freshwater life of its new neighbourhood. But they have not completely escaped from their past foes; one parasite has managed to come along for the ride, and it is a microsporidian called Cucumispora dikerogammari.
As far as the parasite goes, Cucumispora dikerogammari is a pretty nasty one. It invades the host's muscles, reproduces prolifically and eventually kills the host by overwhelming it with sheer numbers. There is some concern that this parasite can spill over into the native invertebrates and add insult to injury to the local stream life. But on another hand, a new study shows that this parasite might be one of the few things holding back this voracious invasive amphipod from causing even more destruction.
A group of scientists from France conducted a study to looked at how C. dikerogammari affects the activity levels and appetite of D. villosus. They observed the behaviour of both infected and uninfected amhipods in a water-filled glass tube and noticed that amphipods at a late stage of infection that are visibly "filled to the brim" with parasite spores are actually more active than healthy amphipods or those that are not visibly parasitised because they are at a much earlier stage of the infection.
|Close-up of a C. dikerogammari spore from here
But why would heavily-infected D. villosus, which would have much of their muscle mass already converted to parasite spores by C. dikerogammari, be more active? Well, it could just be an odd manifestation of the disease, but if it is, it is certainly a useful one for this parasite - as it depends upon cannibalism for transmission to new hosts. Dikerogammarus villosus are rather homely creatures and usually prefer to stay under a shelter and wait for potential prey to wander by. By getting their host out and about, C. dikerogammari might increase the chances that its host will either run into one of its cannibalistic buddies, or die out in the open where it can be scavenged by other D. villosus.
It seems that for this little invasive amphipod, no matter how far you go, you can never really run away from your past (foes).
Bacela-Spychalska, K., Rigaud, T., & Wattier, R. A. (2013). A co-invasive microsporidian parasite that reduces the predatory behaviour of its host Dikerogammarus villosus (Crustacea, Amphipoda). Parasitology 141: 254-258.