Getting into hot water: sick guppies frequent warmer thermal conditions

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  • Ryan S. Mohammed
  • Michael Reynolds
  • Joanna James
  • Chris Williams
  • Azad Mohammed
  • Adesh Ramsubhag
  • Cock van Oosterhout
  • Jo Cable

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Ectotherms depend on the environmental temperature for thermoregulation and exploit thermal regimes that optimise physiological functioning. They may also frequent warmer conditions to up-regulate their immune response against parasite infection and/or impede parasite development. This adaptive response, known as ‘behavioural fever’, has been documented in various taxa including insects, reptiles and fish, but only in response to endoparasite infections. Here, a choice chamber experiment was used to investigate the thermal preferences of a tropical freshwater fish, the Trinidadian guppy (Poecilia reticulata), when infected with a common helminth ectoparasite Gyrodactylus turnbulli, in female-only and mixed-sex shoals. The temperature tolerance of G. turnbulli was also investigated by monitoring parasite population trajectories on guppies maintained at a continuous 18, 24 or 32 °C. Regardless of shoal composition, infected fish frequented the 32 °C choice chamber more often than when uninfected, significantly increasing their mean temperature preference. Parasites maintained continuously at 32 °C decreased to extinction within 3 days, whereas mean parasite abundance increased on hosts incubated at 18 and 24 °C. We show for the first time that gyrodactylid-infected fish have a preference for warmer waters and speculate that sick fish exploit the upper thermal tolerances of their parasites to self medicate.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)911–917
Number of pages7
Issue number3
Early online date10 Mar 2016
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2016


    Research areas

  • Behavioural fever, Climate change, Gyrodactylus, Thermal gradients, Trinidadian guppy

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This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (http://​creativecommons.​org/​licenses/​by/​4.​0/​), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made.

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