Habitat degradation drives increased gnathiid isopod ectoparasite infection rate on juvenile but not adult fish

Narvaez, Pauline, Morais, Renato A., Hutson, Kate S., McCormick, Mark I., and Grutter, Alexandra S. (2021) Habitat degradation drives increased gnathiid isopod ectoparasite infection rate on juvenile but not adult fish. Coral Reefs, 40. pp. 1867-1877.

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Widespread coral mortality is leading to coral reef degradation worldwide. Many juvenile reef fishes settle on live coral, and their predator-avoidance behaviour is disrupted in seawater exposed to dead corals, ultimately increasing predation risk. Gnathiid isopods are micropredatory fish ectoparasites that occur in higher abundances in dead coral. However, the effect of seawater associated with dead coral on the susceptibility of fish to micropredators has never been investigated. We tested whether the infection rate of cultured gnathiid ectoparasites on individual damselfish, Pomacentrus amboinensis Bleeker 1868, from two different ontogenetic stages (juveniles and adults) was influenced by seawater exposed to three different treatments: dead coral, live coral, or no coral. Seawater treatments were presumed to contain different chemical properties and are meant to represent environmental changes associated with habitat degradation on coral reefs. Gnathiid infection of juvenile fish in seawater exposed to dead coral was twice as high as that of fish in live coral or no coral. Infection rates did not significantly differ between live coral and no coral treatments. In contrast to juveniles, the susceptibility of adults to gnathiids was not affected by seawater treatment. During experiments, juvenile fish mortality was relatively low, but was higher for infected fish (9.7%), compared to fish held without exposure to gnathiids (1.7%). No mortality occurred in adult fish that became infected with gnathiids. Our results suggest that chemical cues released from dead corals and/or dead coral colonisers affect the ability of juvenile, but not adult fish to avoid parasite infection. Considering increased habitat degradation on coral reefs and that gnathiids are more abundant in dead coral substrate, it is possible that wild juvenile fish may experience increased susceptibility to parasitic infection and reduced survival rate. This highlights the importance of including parasitism in ecological studies of global environmental change.

Item ID: 70624
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1432-0975
Keywords: Coral reef fish, Dead coral, Environmental chemistry, Fish ectoparasites, Gnathiidae, Parasite susceptibility
Copyright Information: © The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2021
Funders: Australian Research Council (ARC)
Projects and Grants: ARC DP170103372, ARC A00105175, ARC A19937078, ARC FEL010G, ARC DP0557058, ARC DP120102415
Date Deposited: 30 Mar 2022 00:12
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