Parasitic infections are increasingly recognized as influential forces in the migratory behaviors of hosts ranging from butterflies to whales. In aquatic zooplankton, diel vertical migrations (DVMs) are among the most recurrent behaviors with implications for predator-prey interactions, nutrient cycling, and energy flow, yet how parasitism affects such migrations remains an open question. Here, we tested the effects of sporangia cluster disease (SCD) on DVM of the large-bodied Daphnia pulicaria, which is often considered a key component of lake food webs. By collecting depth-specific zooplankton samples across diel cycles, between years, and among lakes, we show that infection is associated with strong inhibition of host DVM; while all Daphnia tended to occur deeper during the day, uninfected Daphnia and especially gravid individuals migrated to shallower waters at night. In contrast, infected hosts—which could comprise 40% of the population—were more likely to remain deep regardless of time of day. Among infected hosts, the intensity of SCD (sporangia count per host) predicted the degree of DVM inhibition. These observations—coupled with lab-based assays showing that infected hosts exhibited fewer swimming movements and persisted at lower depths than uninfected conspecifics—suggest that parasite-induced inhibition of DVM is a “sickness behavior” resulting from increasing morbidity and energy depletion as the infection intensifies toward host death. Considering the importance of large-bodied Daphnia as regulators of water clarity and prey for fishes, parasite-induced alterations of host migratory behavior have broad potential to affect the redistribution of energy and nutrients within lake ecosystems.
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© 2017 Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography