Coral Reefs

, Volume 31, Issue 4, pp 1065–1075 | Cite as

The effects of parasites on the early life stages of a damselfish

  • D. SunEmail author
  • S. P. Blomberg
  • T. H. Cribb
  • M. I. McCormick
  • A. S. Grutter


Early life history traits, such as larval growth, influence the success of coral reef fish in the transition from the larval to the juvenile life phase. Few studies, however, have examined the relationship between parasites and growth in the early life history stages of such fishes. This study examined how parasite prevalence (% infected) and load, and the relationship between parasite presence and fish growth, differed among life stages of the damselfish Pomacentrus amboinensis. Parasite prevalence decreased significantly between the larval stage, which was sampled immediately before settlement on the reef (97 %) and recently settled juveniles (60 %); prevalence was also high for 4-month-old juveniles (90 %), 7-month-old juveniles (100 %) and adult fish (100 %). Total numbers of parasites per fish decreased dramatically (fourfold) between larval and recently settled fish, and then increased in the older stages to levels similar to those observed in larvae, but they did so more gradually than did prevalence. One explanation for these patterns is that heavily infected larvae were preferentially removed from the population during or soon after settlement. Daily fish growth, determined from otolith increments, revealed that growth did not differ between parasitised and non-parasitised larval fish, whereas recently settled fish that were parasitised had faster growth; these parasitised recently settled fish also displayed faster growth prior to settlement. These data provide evidence that parasites may explain some of the variation in growth and survival observed among coral reef fishes after settlement and thereby have a greater impact on population dynamics than previously understood.


Parasites Otolith growth Fish larvae Settlement Coral reef ecology 



We thank A. G. Crean, N. Aurisch and L. M. Curtis for their help with fish collections, J. C. Maddams for guidance in otolith analysis and preparation, and G. A. Boxshall, R. A. Bray and R. J. G. Lester for their assistance in identifying different parasite specimens and providing helpful advice. We are particularly grateful for the support of the staff of the Lizard Island Research Station. This work was funded by an Australian Research Council Discovery grant awarded to A. S. Grutter and M. I. McCormick.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • D. Sun
    • 1
    Email author
  • S. P. Blomberg
    • 1
  • T. H. Cribb
    • 1
  • M. I. McCormick
    • 2
  • A. S. Grutter
    • 1
  1. 1.School of Biological SciencesThe University of QueenslandSt LuciaAustralia
  2. 2.ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and School of Marine and Tropical BiologyJames Cook UniversityTownsvilleAustralia

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