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Seasonal variation in parasite infection patterns of marine fish species from the Northern Wadden Sea in relation to interannual temperature fluctuations

Marine environmental conditions are naturally changing throughout the year, affecting life cycles of hosts as well as parasites. In particular,water temperature is positively correlated with the development of many parasites and pathogenic bacteria, increasing the risk of infection and diseases during summer. Interannual temperature fluctuations are likely to alter host–parasite interactions, which may result in profound impacts on sensitive ecosystems. In this context we investigated the parasite and bacterial Vibrionaceae communities of four common small fish species (three-spined stickleback Gasterosteus aculeatus, Atlantic herring Clupea harengus, European sprat Sprattus sprattus and lesser sand eel Ammodytes tobianus) in the Northern Wadden Sea over a period of two years. Overall,we found significantly increased relative diversities of infectious species at higher temperature differentials. On the taxon-specific level some macroparasite species (trematodes, nematodes) showed a shift in infection peaks that followed the water temperatures of preceding months, whereas other parasite groups showed no effects of temperature differentials on infection parameters. Our results show that even subtle changes in seasonal temperatures may shift and modify the phenology of parasites as well as opportunistic pathogens that can have far reaching consequences for sensitive ecosystems.



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