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Infections may select for filial cannibalism by impacting egg survival in interaction with water salinity and egg density.

Journal article
Authors T. K. Lehtonen
Charlotta Kvarnemo
Published in Oecologia
Volume 178
Issue 3
Pages 673-683
ISSN 0029-8549
Publication year 2015
Published at Linnaeus Centre for Marine Evolutionary Biology (CEMEB)
Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences
Pages 673-683
Language en
Keywords Adaptation, Egg density, Filial cannibalism, Salinity, Saprolegnia infection
Subject categories Biological Sciences, Ecology, Marine ecology, Ethology and behavioural ecology, Evolutionary Biology


In aquatic environments, externally developing eggs are in constant contact with the surrounding water, highlighting the significance of water parameters and pathogens for egg survival. In this study we tested the impact of water salinity, egg density and infection potential of the environment on egg viability in the sand goby (Pomatoschistus minutus), a small fish that exhibits paternal egg care and has a marine origin, but which in the Baltic Sea lives in brackish water. To manipulate the infection potential of the environment, we added either a Saprolegnia infection vector into UV-filtered water or a fungicide into natural Baltic Sea water. Saprolegnia are widely spread water moulds that are a key cause of egg mortality in aquatic organisms in fresh- and brackish water. We found that increased water salinity indeed decreased the egg infection rate and had a positive effect on egg viability, while high egg density tended to have the opposite effect. However, the different factors influenced egg viability interactively, with a higher egg density having negative effects at low, but not in high, salinity. Thus, the challenges facing marine organisms adapting to lower salinity levels can be amplified by Saprolegnia infections that reduce egg survival in interaction with other environmental factors. Our results support the hypothesis that suppressing egg infections is an important aspect of parental care that can select for filial cannibalism, a common but poorly understood behaviour, especially in fish with parental care.

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