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Ecosystem consequences of fish parasites

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In most aquatic ecosystems, fishes are hosts to parasites and, sometimes, these parasites can affect fish biology. Some of the most dramatic cases occur when fishes are intermediate hosts for larval parasites. For example, fishes in southern California estuaries are host to many parasites. The most common of these parasites, Euhaplorchis californiensis, infects the brain of the killifish Fundulus parvipinnis and alters its behaviour, making the fish 10–30 times more susceptible to predation by the birds that serve as its definitive host. Parasites like E. californiensis are embedded in food webs because they require trophic transmission. In the Carpinteria Salt Marsh estuarine food web, parasites dominate the links and comprise substantial amount of biomass. Adding parasites to food webs alters important network statistics such as connectance and nestedness. Furthermore, some free-living stages of parasites are food items for free-living species. For instance, fishes feed on trematode cercariae. Being embedded in food webs makes parasites sensitive to changes in the environment. In particular, fishing and environmental disturbance, by reducing fish populations, may reduce parasite populations. Indirect evidence suggests a decrease in parasites in commercially fished species over the past three decades. In addition, environmental degradation can affect fish parasites. For these reasons, parasites in fishes may serve as indicators of environmental impacts.

Keywords: estuary; fishing; indicators; parasites; pollution; trematodes

Document Type: Regular Paper


Publication date: December 1, 2008


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