Competition for food reduces disease susceptibility in a marine invertebrate

Competition between organisms interfere in host and pathogen dynamics in ways that are difficult to predict. By one side, competitors can reduce the food supply and cause nutritional stress. Such stress could further modulate the susceptibility to infection by altering immune response or metabolic rate of the host. Alternatively, competitors may trap pathogens before they reach the focal host, and therefore reduce, enhance, or have no effect on infection according to the competitor's susceptibility to the infection. To better understand how competition influences host and pathogen interactions, we experimentally assessed the relative importance of competition for pathogens and resources on the severity of a viral disease infecting the Pacific oyster Crassostrea gigas. We designed an open‐flow system where food enriched seawater flowed to filter‐feeding competitors (or empty controls) before being delivered to recipient oysters. We tested a range of competing species that exhibit both low (ascidians, European oysters, mussels) and high (Pacific oysters) susceptibility to the virus. We assessed the physiological condition of the recipient oysters during acclimation, we added virus‐contaminated seawater upstream of the distribution system, and we monitored host and pathogen dynamics. We found that the presence of competitors, regardless of susceptibility to the virus, indirectly reduced the infection rate of hosts by decreasing their food ingestion and growth rates. Although competitors can reduce viral particles from the seawater, this had no effect on the host population. Our data suggest that the effect of competition for food overwhelmed that of competition for pathogens, thus emphasizing the importance of considering resource availability in host and pathogen dynamics. More particularly, resource availability can have positive effects at the individual level, fostering physiological condition and growth, but negative effects at the population level, increasing magnitude of epidemics.


competition, Crassostrea gigas, disease ecology, filtration, ostreid herpesvirus 1, pathogen

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How to cite
Pernet Fabrice, Lugue Klervi, Petton Bruno (2021). Competition for food reduces disease susceptibility in a marine invertebrate. Ecosphere. 12 (4). e03435 (15p.).,

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