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An experimental evaluation of host specificity: The role of encounter and compatibility filters for a rhizocephalan parasite of crabs

April 1, 2007

The encounter/compatibility paradigm of host specificity provides three qualitative pathways to the success or failure of a potential host-parasite interaction. It is usually impossible to distinguish between two of these (encounter and compatibility filters closed versus encounter filter open and compatibility filter closed) because unsuccessful infection attempts are difficult to observe in nature. We were able to open the encounter filter under experimental laboratory conditions. Our analytical system used the rhizocephalan barnacle, Sacculina carcini, a parasitic castrator of the European green crab, Carcinus maenas, and Pachygrapsus marmoratus, a native European crab that occurs with C. maenas but is not parasitized by S. carcini in nature. Penetration followed by unsuccessful infection of P. marmoratus crabs by parasitic barnacle larvae leaves a uniquely permanent record in the thoracic ganglion of the crabs. This provided us with a novel tool to quantify the encounter filter in a host-parasite system in nature. We demonstrated, in the laboratory, that the compatibility filter was closed and that, in nature, even where barnacle larvae were present, the encounter filter was also effectively closed. The closure of both filters in nature explains the failure of this potential host-parasite interaction, an outcome favored by selection in both host and parasite.