, Volume 28, Issue 2, pp 489-495
Date: 18 Feb 2009

Diel ontogenetic shift in parasitic activity in a gnathiid isopod on Caribbean coral reefs

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Ontogenetic niche shifts are characteristic of organisms with complex life cycles such as many marine invertebrates. Research has focused primarily on changes in habitat or diet. However, ontogenetic changes can also occur in the temporal pattern of foraging. Gnathiid isopods feed on fish blood throughout their larval stages and are the primary food item for cleaning organisms on coral reefs. At sites in Australia and the Caribbean, gnathiid larvae exhibit size-related differences in diel activity. However, it is unclear whether this is due to interspecific or intraspecific variation in behavior. Fish were deployed in cages near sunset on shallow reefs off St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands and allowed to be infected with larval gnathiids. Larvae collected from fish retrieved near midnight developed into adults, with most developing into females. In contrast, approximately 80% of gnathiids collected after first light developed into second or third stage larvae, and nearly all of the remaining, large, individuals developed into males. Comparison of ITS2 gene regions from individuals collected in emergence traps from the same reefs during the day versus during the night revealed no differences in this highly variable region. Thus, gnathiid larvae at this locality shift their time of activity as they develop, and larvae developing into males remain active over a longer time period than those developing into females.

Communicated by Biology Editor Dr. Mark McCormick