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Developmental, metabolic and immunological costs of flea infestation in the common vole
Parasites use resources from their hosts, which can indirectly affect a number of host functions because of trade-offs in resource allocation. In order to get a comprehensive view of the costs imposed by blood sucking parasites to their hosts, it is important to monitor multiple components of the development and physiology of parasitized hosts over long time periods. The effect of infestation by fleas on body mass, body length growth, haematocrit, resistance to oxidative stress, resting metabolic rate and humoral immune response were experimentally evaluated. During a 3-month period, male common voles, Microtus arvalis, were either parasitized by rat fleas (Nosopsyllus fasciatus), which are naturally occurring generalist ectoparasites of voles, or reared without fleas. Then voles were challenged twice by injecting Keyhole Limpet Haemocyanin (KLH) to assess whether the presence of fleas affects the ability of voles to produce antibodies against a novel antigen. During the immune challenge we measured the evolution of body mass, haematocrit, resistance to oxidative stress and antibody production. Flea infestation negatively influenced the growth of voles. Moreover, parasitized voles had reduced haematocrit, higher resting metabolic rate and lower production of antibodies against the KLH. Resistance to oxidative stress was not influenced by the presence of fleas. During the immune challenge with KLH, body mass decreased in both groups, while the resistance to oxidative stress remained stable. In contrast, the haematocrit decreased only in parasitized voles. Our experiment shows that infestation by a haematophageous parasite negatively affects multiple traits like growth, energy consumption and immune response. Fleas may severely reduce the survival probability and reproductive success of their host in natural conditions.
body growth, haematocrit, immuno-suppression, Nosopsyllus fasciatus, Microtus arvalis, resting metabolic rate
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