, Volume 559, Issue 1, pp 455-461

Parasite Induced Summer Mortality in the Cockle Cerastoderma edule by the Trematode Gymnophallus choledochus

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Abstract

In late summer 2004, a conspicuous cockle (Cerastoderma edule) mortality event was observed on a tidal flat in the northern Wadden Sea (North Sea, Germany) with many fresh valves and still living cockles lying on the sediment surface. To investigate whether trematode parasites utilizing the cockle as first or second intermediate host were involved in this mortality, buried and surfaced cockles were sampled and analyzed, and a laboratory experiment conducted. The field survey showed no statistical difference in intensity of parasites encysted in the foot of cockles. Three species of Himasthla utilizing the cockle as second intermediate host and known to impair the cockle’s burrowing ability were found in buried cockles with 148.4±111.1 metacercariae/foot and in surfaced cockles with 164.2±84.4. There was also no difference in infection levels of parasites utilizing the cockles as second intermediate host in other cockle tissues between buried and surfaced cockles. In contrast, surfaced cockles showed a ten times higher prevalence (71.0%) than buried cockles (7.4%) of the trematode Gymnophallus choledochus – a parasite utilizing the cockle as first (and second) intermediate host – filling almost the entire body cavity and eliminating gonad structures. In an aquarium experiment of 14 days, all cockles found buried on the tidal flat survived compared to only 23.3% found on the surface. This suggests G. choledochus to be a castrating agent and a serious mortality factor in adult cockle populations.