Host-parasite Interactions between a Copepod (Pharodes tortugensis) and Small Reef-associated Gobies (Coryphopterus) in the British Virgin Islands

Zool Stud. 2022 Aug 12:61:e32. doi: 10.6620/ZS.2022.61-32. eCollection 2022.


The effects of parasitic copepods on free-living hosts are infrequently documented, and the copepod Pharodes tortugensis has remained virtually unstudied since described. For the first time, we document its host range in the British Virgin Islands (BVI), the prevalence and intensity of infections on wild hosts, and its impacts on host morphology and performance. Infections were observed on four benthic gobies in the BVI (Coryphopterus glaucofraenum, C. venezuelae, C. dicrus and C. eidolon) but not on other host species previously reported from other parts of the western Atlantic. Infected gobies were widespread in the BVI (detected at 33 of 52 sites, prevalence from 1-25%) but extremely rare elsewhere in the Caribbean (detected at 2 of 16 sites, prevalence < 0.006%). As is typical of macroparasite infections, P. tortugensis was over-dispersed in BVI host populations (mean intensity = 4.7, range = 1-17). Infections were most common in juvenile and female hosts, and rarely found in larger male hosts. The copepods attach in the branchial chamber of the goby; female copepods show high attachment fidelity to the ventral surface of the chamber, while male copepods attached most often to the first two gill arches and in the branchial chamber adjacent to the female. Infections caused substantial damage to the host's branchial chamber and gill filaments. Parasitized gobies also had larger livers and smaller gonads than unparasitized individuals of similar length. The changes in organ mass of infected gobies were not sizeable enough to affect total body mass, and host condition (the body-length vs. body-mass relationship) was similar for gobies with and without infections. Parasitized gobies were, however, significantly smaller in body mass at a given age, reflecting slower overall growth. Effects of P. tortugensis on individual hosts were broadly similar to those of other parasitic copepods that infect fish gills and, for unknown reasons, the BVI appears to be a persistent hotspot of infections on these goby hosts.

Keywords: Coral reef fish; Ectoparasite; Gill pathology; Host-range; Infection intensity; Liver condition; Prevalence; Reproductive output.