We examined the relationship between the numbers of brain-encysting trematodes (Ornithodiplostomum ptychocheilus) and the magnitude of altered behaviors in fathead minnows (Pimephales promelas). Because cysts develop within a brain region that integrates visual stimuli with motor response, we evaluated the standard optomotor response (OMR). Monitoring this task involved recording the time minnows spent following a spinning drum, on which alternating black and white stripes had been painted. Minnows were exposed to 0, 5, 20, 120, and 300 cercariae and then their OMR was evaluated at 2-wk postinfection. Surprisingly, only minnows that had high numbers of parasites (155 ± 31 worms/fish) or low numbers of parasites (3 ± 3 worms/fish) differed significantly in their optomotor performance compared with controls. Reduced OMR of heavily infected minnows was positively correlated with reduction in minnow activity. In contrast, reduced OMR in lightly infected minnows was independent of host activity and was likely associated with the rapid development of parasite larvae within the optic tecta. The nonlinear relationship between parasite intensity and effect on host behavior was consistent with an earlier study, but the underlying mechanisms producing this pattern are unknown.
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