Aquatic Ecology

, Volume 53, Issue 2, pp 217–232 | Cite as

Application of stable isotopic analyses for fish host–parasite systems: an evaluation tool for parasite-mediated material flow in aquatic ecosystems

  • Gen Kanaya
  • Mikhail M. Solovyev
  • Shuichi Shikano
  • Jun-ichi Okano
  • Natalia M. Ponomareva
  • Natalia I. YurlovaEmail author


Parasites potentially have important roles in aquatic ecosystems, although relatively little is known about their contributions to the complexity of food web structure. In this study, stable carbon and nitrogen isotope analyses (δ13C and δ15N) were applied for fish host–parasite systems in a shallow swamp–lake ecosystem to assess the validity of stable isotope technics to reveal the parasite-mediated trophic linkages in the food web. Forty host–parasite pairs, including seven parasite taxa (cestodes, trematodes, crustaceans, and hirudinids), found on six host fish species (cyprinids and percids) were examined. The parasites showed unusual δ15N fractionation, with an overall average of − 1.9‰, suggesting the intake of 14N-rich ammonia for amino acid synthesis and/or selective absorption of 15N-depleted amino acids in the host fluid. The isotopic signatures of fish hosts and their parasites were positively correlated, suggesting the absorption and transfer of host-derived nutrients during infection. A δ13C-based isotope mixing model showed that each host fish species exhibited unique dependencies on POM, land-derived organic matter, and macrophytes, suggesting the host-specific trophic niche of the associated parasites in the lake–swamp food web. These emphasized that parasites are potential pathways of material and energy flows in aquatic ecosystems, contributing substantially to the food web complexity. Stable isotope analyses are the useful tools to elucidate the host–parasite trophic linkages, and case-specific isotopic fractionation factors are the mandatory information for a better understanding of the parasite-mediated material flow in ecosystems.


Fish parasites Material flow Stable isotope analysis Trematode parasites Trophic enrichment Trophic niche Wetland food web 



We thank Dr. SS. Matsuzaki, NIES, for allowing use of the mass spectrometer and Dr. A.K., Yurlov, ISEA SB RAS, for his support throughout the research. Staffs in the Chany Lake field station are acknowledged for their help in field and laboratory works. All experiments and sampling complied with the current laws in the Russian Federation.


This study was supported partly by the International Joint Research Programs (2009 to 2010, 2012 to 2013, and 2015 to 2016) from JSPS and the Russian Foundation for Basic Research (RFBR research projects No. 09-04-92104 and 12-04-92111).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gen Kanaya
    • 1
  • Mikhail M. Solovyev
    • 2
  • Shuichi Shikano
    • 3
  • Jun-ichi Okano
    • 3
  • Natalia M. Ponomareva
    • 2
  • Natalia I. Yurlova
    • 2
    Email author
  1. 1.National Institute for Environmental Studies (NIES)TsukubaJapan
  2. 2.Institute of Systematics and Ecology of AnimalsSiberian Branch of Russian Academy of Sciences (ISEA SB RAS)NovosibirskRussia
  3. 3.Center for Northeast Asian StudiesTohoku UniversitySendaiJapan

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