Host size-pependent anisakid infection in Baltic cod Gadus morhua Associated with differential food preferences

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A significant increase in the infection level of Baltic cod Gadus morhua with the anisakid nematode larvae Contracaecum osculatum and Pseudoterranova decipiens has been recorded during recent years due to the expanding local population of grey seals Halichoerus grypus, which act as final hosts for these parasites. Here, we report from an investigation of 368 cod (total length [TL] 6-49 cm; caught in ICES Subdivision 25) that the infection level of juvenile cod (TL 6-30 cm) with larvae of C. osculatum and P. decipiens is absent or very low, whereas it increases drastically in larger cod (TL 31-48 cm). A third nematode Hysterothylacium aduncum was rarely found. The study indicates that the prey animals for large cod act as transport hosts for the parasite larvae. Analyses of stomach contents of cod caught in the same area (2007-2014) showed that small benthic organisms (including polychaetes Harmothoë sarsi) are preferred food items by small cod, the isopod Saduria entomon is taken by all size classes, and sprat Sprattus sprattus are common prey items for cod larger than 30 cm. Parasitological investigations (microscopic and molecular analyses) of H. sarsi (100 specimens) and S. entomon (40 specimens) did not reveal infection in these invertebrates, but 11.6% of sprat (265 specimens examined) was shown to be infected with 1-8 C. osculatum third stage larvae per fish. Analyses of sprat stomach contents confirmed that copepods and cladocerans are the main food items of sprat. These observations suggest that the C. osculatum life cycle in the Baltic Sea includes grey seals as final hosts, sprat as the first transport host and cod as second transport host. It may be speculated that sprat obtain infection by feeding on copepods and/or cladocerans, which could serve as the first intermediate hosts. One cannot exclude the possibility that the size-dependent C. osculatum infection of cod may contribute (indirectly or directly) to the differential mortality of larger cod (>38 cm) compared to smaller cod (<30 cm) recently recorded in the Baltic cod population
Original languageEnglish
JournalDiseases of Aquatic Organisms
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)69-75
Number of pages7
Publication statusPublished - 22 Jun 2016

    Research areas

  • Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences - Gadus morhua, Halichoerus grypus, Contracaecum osculatum, Pseudoterranova decipiens, Hysterothylacium aduncum, Life cycle, Sprattus sprattus, Saduria, Harmothoë

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