Open Access Research article

Parasitism, life history traits and immune defence in cyprinid fish from Central Europe

Andrea Šimková1*, Thomas Lafond3, Markéta Ondračková14, Pavel Jurajda4, Eva Ottová1 and Serge Morand2

Author Affiliations

1 Institute of Botany and Zoology, Faculty of Science, Masaryk University, Kotlářská 2, 61137 Brno, Czech Republic

2 Institut des Sciences de l'Evolution CNRS, CC065, Université Montpellier 2, 34095 Montpellier cedex 05 France

3 Laboratoire de Parasitologie Evolutive, UMR 7103, Université Pierre et Marie Curie, 7, Quai St. Bernard, 75252 Paris Cedex 05, France

4 Institute of Vertebrate Biology, Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, Květná 8, 60365 Brno, Czech Republic

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2008, 8:29  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-8-29

Published: 28 January 2008



The main prediction of life-history theory is that optimal energy allocated among the traits is related to the growth, maintenance and survival. It is hypothesized that the optimal resource allocated to immune function, which generates resistance towards parasites and reduce the fitness losses caused by parasitism, is depending on other requirements for energetic resource and the benefits associated with them. The aims of this study are to investigate in a comparative way (1) how parasitism is related to fish life history traits (fecundity, longevity, mortality), (2) whether there is a trade-off between reproduction and immune investments in fish females (i.e. energetic hypothesis) and in males (i.e. immunohandicap hypothesis), (3) whether parasitism influences host immunity (spleen size) and reproduction (gonad size) in females and males.


Data on metazoan parasites of 23 cyprinid fish species from Central Europe were used for the analyses as well as new data collected from a field study. Ectoparasite species richness was negatively correlated with the fish mortality estimated by the k-value and positively correlated with fish body size, suggesting that parasite diversity increases with fish longevity. A negative relationship between spleen size and gonad size, controlling for fish body size, was found in females but not in males. Moreover, parasite abundance was positively correlated with fish spleen size and negatively with fish gonad size in females.


The comparative analyses using cyprinid fish species demonstrated that natural mortality could be considered as a factor contributing to the variability of parasite species richness and moreover, parasite species benefit from long-lived fish. The results obtained from the analyses investigating the potential trade-off between reproduction and immunity could be interpreted as an energetic trade-off between female reproduction and immune function. The lack of negative relationship between gonad size and spleen size in males did not support our prediction based on the immunohandicap hypothesis.