Reproduction is an energy-demanding activity in mammalian females, with increased energy requirements during pregnancy and, especially, during lactation. To better understand the interactions between parasitism and host reproduction, we investigated feeding and reproductive performance of fleas (Xenopsylla ramesis) parasitizing non-reproducing, pregnant or lactating gerbilline rodents (Meriones crassus). Based on energetic considerations, we predicted that feeding and reproductive performance of fleas would be lowest on non-breeding females, moderate on pregnant females and highest on lactating females. We estimated feeding performance of the fleas via absolute and mass-specific bloodmeal size and reproductive performance via egg production and latency to peak oviposition. Host reproductive status had no effect on either absolute or mass-specific bloodmeal size or the day of peak oviposition, but significantly affected the daily number of eggs produced by a female flea. Surprisingly, and contrary to our predictions, egg production of fleas fed on pregnant rodents was significantly lower than that of fleas on non-reproducing and lactating rodents, while no difference in egg production between fleas feeding on non-reproducing and lactating hosts was found. Our results suggest that differences in parasite reproduction when feeding on hosts of different reproductive status are not associated with the different energy requirements of the hosts at non-breeding, pregnancy and lactation but rather with variation in hormonal and/or immune status during these periods.
- Egg production