Indirect effects of an ectoparasite reduce successful establishment of a damselfish at settlement

Grutter, Alexandra S., Crean, Angela J., Curtis, Lynda M., Kuris, Armand M., Warner, Robert R., and McCormick, Mark I. (2011) Indirect effects of an ectoparasite reduce successful establishment of a damselfish at settlement. Functional Ecology, 25 (3). pp. 586-594.

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1. The sublethal impact of parasites on host behaviour and the mechanism linking them to population level effects remain largely unquantified. On the Great Barrier Reef, juvenile gnathiid isopods (mobile ectoparasites) are one of the most common ectoparasites of fishes. Previous laboratory studies on damselfishes suggest that a single gnathiid can kill settlement-stage larvae and very young juveniles, while repeated attacks affect the growth of a juvenile damselfish. Nothing, however, is known of how gnathiids affect the performance, and the survival of settlement stage fishes in the wild.

2. We sampled juveniles of the damselfish Pomacentrus amboinensis for gnathiids and tested the effect of a single gnathiid (Gnathia auresmaculosa) on juvenile survival in the laboratory. We also tested the effect of this gnathiid on the swimming performance, oxygen consumption, and successful establishment in the wild of settlement-stage larvae.

3. Of the juvenile fish sampled at dawn, 3·5% had a gnathiid attached; at other times of the day, fish had no gnathiids. In the laboratory, most gnathiids (79%) remained attached to juvenile fish for up to 6 h and all fish survived exposure to one gnathiid.

4. When tested in pairs in a double-lane swim chamber, fish that had previously been fed on by one gnathiid ceased swimming first in 77% of the trials and had a lower critical swimming speed compared to fish not exposed to a gnathiid. Previously parasitized fish had a 35% higher oxygen consumption rate than did unexposed fish. When tagged fish were placed in pairs on dead coral patches in the wild and monitored, the previously parasitized fish disappeared from the reef first in 67% of the trials.

5. Our analysis indicates that a single ectoparasitic gnathiid isopod significantly decreases the performance of young P. amboinensis and their persistence on the reef. Gnathiids, by affecting fish performance, may therefore indirectly affect the successful establishment of fishes on the reef at settlement, a critical transitional stage for most coral reef fishes. Unsuccessful establishment on the reef most likely increases the interactions of settling fish with predators and thus gnathiids may contribute to the high mortality observed at this time.

Item ID: 16614
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1365-2435
Keywords: coral reefs, fish behaviour, Gnathiidae, parasites, Pomacentridae, recruitment, settlement, trait-mediated indirect effects
Funders: ARC
Date Deposited: 21 Aug 2011 23:13
FoR Codes: 06 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 0602 Ecology > 060205 Marine and Estuarine Ecology (incl Marine Ichthyology) @ 100%
SEO Codes: 96 ENVIRONMENT > 9608 Flora, Fauna and Biodiversity > 960808 Marine Flora, Fauna and Biodiversity @ 100%
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