Marine Biodiversity

, Volume 46, Issue 1, pp 67–74 | Cite as

High prevalence of dermal parasites among coral reef fishes of Curaçao

  • Moisés A. BernalEmail author
  • Sergio R. Floeter
  • Michelle R. Gaither
  • Guilherme O. Longo
  • Renato Morais
  • Carlos E. L. Ferreira
  • Mark J.A. Vermeij
  • Luiz A. Rocha
Original Paper


During expeditions to Curaçao in August and October of 2013, a large number of fish infected with dermal parasites was observed. Infected individuals presented black spots and white blemishes on their skin and fins that were easily observed by divers, and which have been associated with infections by trematodes, turbellarians, and protozoans (Cryptocaryon). In order to compare rates of infection across localities in the Caribbean, we conducted visual censuses of reef fish communities along 40 m2 belt transects in Belize (n = 35), Curaçao (n = 82), and Mexico (n = 80) over a 4-week period. Three affected individuals were recorded in Belize, 75 in Curaçao, and none in Mexico. Approximately 68 % of the infected individuals in Curaçao were surgeonfishes (Acanthuridae). There was no correlation between incidence of infection and species abundance (r 2  = 0.03), or with functional traits (diet, mobility, schooling behavior, or position in the water column). The causes of the strikingly high incidence of dermal parasites in Curaçao and its consequences remain unknown. However, considering that parasites with complex life cycles have several hosts throughout their lives, and that past disease outbreaks have had severe consequences on communities of the Caribbean, we caution that coral reef ecosystems of Curaçao should be closely monitored.


Tropical Western Atlantic Caribbean Infectious diseases Metacercaria Turbellaria Marine fishes 



We thank Freeland Dunker, Alexandra Grutter, Paul Sikkel, Alistair Dove, Mark Hay, Juan Pablo Quimbayo, the staff of CARMABI (Caribbean Marine Biological Institute), and one anonymous reviewer for their help with the manuscript. Funding was provided by a California Academy of Sciences grant to MAB, MRG, and LAR; Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico (CNPq) grant to SRF; Secretaría Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnología (SENACYT) to MAB; and Brazilian Marine Biodiversity Network (SISBIOTA-Mar) through CNPq (563276/2010-0) and Fundação de Amparo à Pesquisa e Inovação do Estado de Santa Catarina (FAPESC) (6308/2011-8).

Supplementary material

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ESM 1 (PDF 85 kb)
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Copyright information

© Senckenberg Gesellschaft für Naturforschung and Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Moisés A. Bernal
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Sergio R. Floeter
    • 3
  • Michelle R. Gaither
    • 2
    • 4
  • Guilherme O. Longo
    • 3
  • Renato Morais
    • 3
  • Carlos E. L. Ferreira
    • 5
  • Mark J.A. Vermeij
    • 6
    • 7
  • Luiz A. Rocha
    • 2
  1. 1.University of Texas Marine Science InstitutePort AransasUSA
  2. 2.Institute for Biodiversity, Science and Sustainability, Department of IchthyologyCalifornia Academy of SciencesSan FranciscoUSA
  3. 3.Laboratório de Biogeografia e Macroecologia Marinha, Departamento de Ecologia e ZoologiaUniversidade Federal de Santa CatarinaFlorianópolisBrazil
  4. 4.School of Biological and Biomedical SciencesDurham UniversityDurhamUK
  5. 5.Departamento de Biologia MarinhaUniversidade Federal FluminenseNiteróiBrazil
  6. 6.Carmabi FoundationWillemstadCuraçao
  7. 7.Aquatic Microbiology, Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem DynamicsUniversity of AmsterdamAmsterdamThe Netherlands

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