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Assessment of stable isotopic signatures as a means to track the exchange of sea lice (Lepeophtheirus salmonis) between host fish populations

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The viability of stable isotopic carbon (δ13C) and nitrogen (δ15N) signatures to track the exchange of sea lice, Lepeophtheirus salmonis, between hosts was tested. It was predicted that nonfeeding sea lice would experience lowered δ13C signatures and enriched δ15N signatures owing, at least in part, to moulting during development. It was also predicted that newly settled parasitic first generation sea lice (late stage copepodids) would retain isotopic signatures indistinguishable from their natal host fish population. During this laboratory study, δ13C signatures of nonfeeding sea lice developmental stages declined over time, while the δ13C signature of chalimus III sea lice was not significantly different from fin and gill signatures of their natal hosts, thus providing an isotopic link to their natal host fish population. In contrast, δ15N analysis did not show promise as a tracer in this study, as host fish populations did not display distinct δ15N signatures. These results suggest that δ13C signatures may be applied to identify sources of sea lice epizootics and potentially quantify the exchange of sea lice between cultured and wild salmon populations.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Ecosystem Research Division, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Bedford Institute of Oceanography, Dartmouth, NS B2Y 4A2, Canada. 2: The University of British Columbia, Centre for Aquaculture and Environmental Research, 4160 Marine Drive, West Vancouver, BC V7V 1N6, Canada.

Publication date: July 8, 2011

More about this publication?
  • Published continuously since 1901 (under various titles), this monthly journal is the primary publishing vehicle for the multidisciplinary field of aquatic sciences. It publishes perspectives (syntheses, critiques, and re-evaluations), discussions (comments and replies), articles, and rapid communications, relating to current research on cells, organisms, populations, ecosystems, or processes that affect aquatic systems. The journal seeks to amplify, modify, question, or redirect accumulated knowledge in the field of fisheries and aquatic science. Occasional supplements are dedicated to single topics or to proceedings of international symposia.
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