You are how you eat: differences in trophic position of two parasite species infecting a single host according to stable isotopes

Beric M. Gilbert, Milen Nachev, Maik A. Jochmann, Torsten C. Schmidt, Daniel Köster, Bernd Sures, Annemariè Avenant-Oldewage

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)


Parasitism is commonly recognised as a consumer strategy, although, the interaction of parasites in communities and ecosystems are generally poorly understood. As parasites are integral parts of food webs, analysis of the trophic interactions between parasites and hosts was assessed through comparison of stable isotope ratios of carbon (13C/12C) and nitrogen (15N/14N). Largemouth yellowfish (Labeobarbus kimberleyensis) infected with the Asian tapeworm (Schyzocotyle acheilognathi) were collected from the Vaal Dam. Signatures of δ13C and δ15N were assessed in host muscle and liver tissue, and cestodes using an elemental analyser coupled with an isotope ratio-mass spectrometer (EA-IRMS). Hosts were enriched by 4.1‰ in the heavy nitrogen isotope with respect to the S. acheilognathi and therefore occupy a higher trophic position than the parasite. Comparison of δ13C indicates that dietary sources of carbon in cestodes are derived from the host liver. Comparison of stable isotope signatures between Paradiplozoon ichthyoxanthon (another common parasite of the Largemouth yellowfish in the Vaal River) and S. acheilognathi showed that the monogenean was enriched by 5.3‰ in 15N which accounts for a difference of almost two trophic positions. Isotope differences in the host–parasite system considered indicate that differences can be related to the mode of nutrient acquisition employed by host and parasites. Cestodes, being depleted in both 13C and 15N relative to the host and monogenean (P. ichthyoxanthon), indicate that S. acheilognathi assimilates nutrients derived from the host metabolism which are released from the liver.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1393-1400
Number of pages8
JournalParasitology Research
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2020


  • Cestodes
  • Host–parasite system
  • Monogeneans
  • Stable isotopes
  • Trophic relationships

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Parasitology
  • General Veterinary
  • Insect Science
  • Infectious Diseases


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