Effects of parasites on larval and juvenile stages of the coral reef fish Pomacentrus moluccensis
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The ecological role of parasites in the early life-history stages of coral reef fish is far from clear. Parasitism in larval, recently settled and juvenile stages of a coral reef fish damselfish (Pomacentridae) was therefore investigated by quantifying the ontogenetic change in parasite load and comparing the growth rates of parasitized juvenile fish to those of unparasitized ones. Parasite prevalence in two lunar pulses of Pomacentrus moluccensis was 4 and 0% for larval stage fish, 34 and 56% for recently settled fish and 42 and 49% for juveniles. A significant increase in parasite prevalence with age group was found; the most marked increase occurred immediately after larval fish had settled. Standard length did not model prevalence well; as length is a proxy for age, this indicates that the higher prevalence in recently settled and juvenile fish compared with larvae was not a simple result of parasites accumulating with age. In one of three cohorts, there was some evidence that parasitism affected the growth rate of juveniles, as measured by otolith width. The study suggests that settling on the reef exposes young fish to potentially harmful parasites. This supports the idea that the pelagic phase may have the effect of reducing the exposure of young fish to the debilitating effects of parasites.
Marine and Estuarine Ecology (incl. Marine Ichthyology)