Applied and environmental microbiology

Ecology, Virulence, and Phylogeny of Blastulidium paedophthorum, a Widespread Brood Parasite of Daphnia spp.

PMID 26048938


Parasitism is now recognized as a major factor impacting the ecology and evolution of plankton, including Daphnia. Parasites that attack the developing embryos of daphniids, known as brood parasites, were first described in the early 1900s but have received relatively little study. Here, we link previous morphological descriptions of the oomycete brood parasite Blastulidium paedophthorum with information on its phylogenetic placement, ecology, and virulence. Based on the morphology and phylogenetic relationship with other members of the Leptomitales, we show that a brood parasite observed in daphniids in the Midwestern United States is B. paedophthorum. We used morphology, DNA sequences, and laboratory infection experiments to show that B. paedophthorum is a multihost parasite that can be transmitted between species and genera. A field survey of six hosts in 15 lakes revealed that B. paedophthorum is common in all six host taxa (present on 38.3% of our host species-lake-sampling date combinations; the maximum infection prevalences were 8.7% of the population and 20% of the asexual adult female population). Although B. paedophthorum was observed in all 15 lakes, presence and infection prevalence varied among lakes. Infection with B. paedophthorum did not reduce host life span but significantly impacted host fecundity. Theory predicts that parasites that affect host fecundity without affecting host life span should have the strongest impact on host population dynamics. Based on its virulence and commonness in natural populations and on the central role of daphniids in freshwater food webs, we predict that B. paedophthorum will influence daphniid ecology and evolution, as well as the larger food web.