|Investing in attachment: evolution of anchoring structures in acanthocephalan parasites|In: Biological Journal of the Linnean Society. Academic Press: London; New York. ISSN 0024-4066, more
Allometry; Comparative studies; Hosts; Proboscis; Marine
Secure attachment to host tissues is essential for survival and reproduction in parasitic organisms. The production of elaborate attachment structures must be costly, however, and investments in attachment should be approximately proportional to the likelihood that a parasite will be dislodged. In the present study, relative investments in attachment as a function of body size and the type of host used were examined across 138 species of acanthocephalans. These worms live anchored to the intestinal wall of a vertebrate host by inserting their hooked proboscis into host tissues. Taking proboscis volume into account, there is a negative interspecific relationship between the number of hooks borne on the proboscis and their mean length, reflecting a trade-off between hook number and hook length. This supports the assumption that hooks are costly to produce, because any given species cannot simultaneously maximize both the relative number and relative length of the hooks it produces. There is a positive relationship between total worm size and total hook length, but it is weak, with a slope indicating that, as total body volume increases, total hook length also increases but at a slower rate. Indeed, relative investments in attachment, measured as hook length per unit body volume, decrease as worm size increases. Independently of total body size, investments in hook production are higher in species exploiting endothermic hosts, especially birds, than in those living in ectothermic hosts. Given the greater amounts of food passing through the gut of endotherms, and the richer and denser communities of intestinal parasites that they harbour, they are likely to select for greater investments in attachment. These results support the prediction that investments in attachment are influenced by the probability of being dislodged, and allow comparisons with other groups of intestinal parasites such as cestodes or trematodes.