Open Access Research article

Dietary supply with polyunsaturated fatty acids and resulting maternal effects influence host – parasite interactions

Nina Schlotz1*, Dieter Ebert2 and Dominik Martin-Creuzburg1

Author Affiliations

1 Limnological Institute, University of Konstanz, Konstanz 78464, Germany

2 Zoological Institute, University of Basel, Basel 4051, Switzerland

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BMC Ecology 2013, 13:41  doi:10.1186/1472-6785-13-41

Published: 31 October 2013



Interactions between hosts and parasites can be substantially modulated by host nutrition. Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) are essential dietary nutrients; they are indispensable as structural components of cell membranes and as precursors for eicosanoids, signalling molecules which act on reproduction and immunity. Here, we explored the potential of dietary PUFAs to affect the course of parasitic infections using a well-established invertebrate host – parasite system, the freshwater herbivore Daphnia magna and its bacterial parasite Pasteuria ramosa.


Using natural food sources differing in their PUFA composition and by experimentally modifying the availability of dietary arachidonic acid (ARA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) we examined PUFA-mediated effects resulting from direct consumption as well as maternal effects on offspring of treated mothers. We found that both host and parasite were affected by food quality. Feeding on C20 PUFA-containing food sources resulted in higher offspring production of hosts and these effects were conveyed to a great extent to the next generation. While feeding on a diet containing high PUFA concentrations significantly reduced the likelihood of becoming infected, the infection success in the next generation increased whenever the maternal diet contained PUFAs. We suggest that this opposing effect was caused by a trade-off between reproduction and immunity in the second generation.


Considering the direct and maternal effects of dietary PUFAs on host and parasite we propose that host – parasite interactions and thus disease dynamics under natural conditions are subject to the availability of dietary PUFAs.

Arachidonic acid; Daphnia magna; Eicosapentaenoic acid; Food quality; Host parasite interactions; Immunity; Nutrition; Pasteuria ramosa; Resistance