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Reef fishes have higher parasite richness at unfished Palmyra Atoll compared to fished Kiritimati Island

September 1, 2008

We compared parasite communities at two coral atolls in the Line Islands chain of the central Pacific (Kiritimati Island and Palmyra Atoll). Palmyra Atoll is relatively pristine while Kiritimati Island is heavily fished. At each island, we sampled five fish species for helminth and arthropod endoparasites: Chromis margaritifer, Plectroglyphidodon dickii,Paracirrhites arcatus, Acanthurus nigricans, and Lutjanus bohar. The surveys found monogeneans, digeneans, cestodes, nematodes, acanthocephalans, and copepods. Parasite richness was higher at Palmyra compared to Kiritimati for all five fish species. Fishes from Palmyra also tended to have more parasites species per host, higher parasite prevalence, and higher parasite abundance than did fishes from Kiritimati. The lower parasitism at Kiritimati may result from a simplified food web due to over fishing. Low biodiversity could impair parasite transmission by reducing the availability of hosts required by parasites with complex life cycles. Most notably, the lower abundances of larval shark tapeworms at Kiritimati presumably reflect the fact that fishing has greatly depleted sharks there in comparison to Palmyra.