Coral Reefs

, Volume 38, Issue 2, pp 199–214 | Cite as

Parasites of coral reef fish larvae: its role in the pelagic larval stage

  • B. DuongEmail author
  • S. P. Blomberg
  • T. H. Cribb
  • P. F. Cowman
  • A. M. Kuris
  • M. I. McCormick
  • R. R. Warner
  • D. Sun
  • A. S. Grutter


The pelagic larval stage is a critical component of the life cycle of most coral reef fishes, but the adaptive significance of this stage remains controversial. One hypothesis is that migrating through the pelagic environment reduces the risk a larval fish has of being parasitised. Most organisms interact with parasites, often with significant, detrimental consequences for the hosts. However, little is known about the parasites that larval fish have upon settlement, and the factors that affect the levels of parasitism. At settlement, coral reef fishes vary greatly in size and age (pelagic larval duration), which may influence the degree of parasitism. We identified and quantified the parasites of pre-settlement larvae from 44 species of coral reef fishes from the Great Barrier Reef and explored their relationship with host size and age at settlement, and phylogeny. Overall, less than 50% of the larval fishes were infected with parasites, and over 99% of these were endoparasites. A Bayesian phylogenetic regression was used to analyse host-parasite (presence and intensity) associations. The analysis showed parasite presence was not significantly related to fish size, and parasite intensity was not significantly related to fish age. A phylogenetic signal was detected for both parasite presence and intensity, indicating that, overall, closely related fish species were likely to have more similar susceptibility to parasites and similar levels of parasitism when compared to more distantly related species. The low prevalence of infection with any parasite type and the striking rarity of ectoparasites is consistent with the ‘parasite avoidance hypothesis’, which proposes that the pelagic phase of coral reef fishes results in reduced levels of parasitism.


Fish settlement Pelagic larval phase Larval fish Phylogenetic regression 



We thank J. Becker, A. Crean, L. Curtis, B. Fargher, C. Jones, R. Fogelman, G. Marsden, S. Pausina, C. Vargas, volunteers and the Lizard Island Research Station staff for field assistance. The Australian Research Council and The University of Queensland funded this research.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

On behalf of all authors, the corresponding author states that there is no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

338_2019_1766_MOESM1_ESM.docx (41 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 41 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Biological SciencesThe University of QueenslandSt LuciaAustralia
  2. 2.ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, Department of Marine Biology and AquacultureJames Cook UniversityTownsvilleAustralia
  3. 3.Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Marine BiologyUniversity of CaliforniaSanta BarbaraUSA
  4. 4.Marine Science InstituteUniversity of CaliforniaSanta BarbaraUSA

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