Density of the waterborne parasite Ceratomyxa shasta and its biological effects on salmon

Appl Environ Microbiol. 2012 May;78(10):3724-31. doi: 10.1128/AEM.07801-11. Epub 2012 Mar 9.


The myxozoan parasite Ceratomyxa shasta is a significant pathogen of juvenile salmonids in the Pacific Northwest of North America and is limiting recovery of Chinook (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) and coho (O. kisutch) salmon populations in the Klamath River. We conducted a 5-year monitoring program that comprised concurrent sentinel fish exposures and water sampling across 212 river kilometers of the Klamath River. We used percent mortality and degree-days to death to measure disease severity in fish. We analyzed water samples using quantitative PCR and Sanger sequencing, to determine total parasite density and relative abundance of C. shasta genotypes, which differ in their pathogenicity to salmonids. We detected the parasite throughout the study zone, but parasite density and genetic composition fluctuated spatially and temporally. Chinook and coho mortality increased with density of their specific parasite genotype, but mortality-density thresholds and time to death differed. A lethality threshold of 40% mortality was reached with 10 spores liter(-1) for Chinook but only 5 spores liter(-1) for coho. Parasite density did not affect degree-days to death for Chinook but was negatively correlated for coho, and there was wider variation among coho individuals. These differences likely reflect the different life histories and genetic heterogeneity of the salmon populations. Direct quantification of the density of host-specific parasite genotypes in water samples offers a management tool for predicting host population-level impacts.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Fish Diseases / mortality
  • Fish Diseases / parasitology*
  • Fish Diseases / pathology
  • Genotype
  • Myxozoa / classification
  • Myxozoa / genetics
  • Myxozoa / isolation & purification*
  • Myxozoa / pathogenicity*
  • Northwestern United States
  • Parasitic Diseases, Animal / mortality
  • Parasitic Diseases, Animal / parasitology*
  • Parasitic Diseases, Animal / pathology
  • Rivers
  • Salmonidae / parasitology*
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Survival Analysis
  • Water / parasitology*


  • Water