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Factors Contributing to Variability in Club Cell Investment in a North American Cyprinid Fish Species

David George Lonzarich, Megan Meller, Rebecca Frank


In many fish species, particularly those from the superorder Ostariophysi, individuals contain club cells in their epidermal tissue. These cells contain a chemical substance, which when released by injury during predation events, lead to stereotyped anti-predatory behaviors in nearby fish. Recent evidence concerning the evolutionary origins of this system have suggested that club cells are associated with innate immunity, and may serve to protect fish from parasite infestations and injury. In this study, we explored factors associated with variability in club cell investment from several populations of a North American cyprinid fish species (Creek Chub, Semotilus atromaculatus), with a primary goal to test the anti-parasite hypothesis in a natural setting. Using a path model approach, we evaluated the relative effects of fish length, mucous cell densities, epidermis thickness and parasite burden on club cell investment. Our model, which included all four independent variables, explained most of the variability in club cell densities for our fish (R2 = 0.80), and that fish length (acting either directly or indirectly on the other variables) explained most of this variability. Club cell densities were positively associated with parasite burden when examined in isolation of other factors, but in the path model, the effect of parasite burden on club cell investment was non-significant. Although we could not find support for the anti-parasite hypothesis in this study, our model indicates that, at least in this species, most of the variability in club cell investment is associated with characteristics of individual fish, and not the conditions of the environments in which they occur.


Alarm Response; Fish; Club Cells

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