• Sven Klimpel
  • Thomas Kuhn
  • Julian Münster
  • Dorian D. Dörge
  • Regina Klapper
  • Judith Kochmann


Seas and oceans represent the largest continuous ecosystem on our planet, comprising a total area of about 360 million km2 and an estimated volume of 1375 billion km3 (Hempel et al. 2006; Sommer 2005; Tardent 2005). They absorb and store considerable amounts of carbon dioxide and heat, thereby playing a key role in regulating the earth’s climate (Hoegh-Guldberg and Bruno 2010). Furthermore, they provide habitats for a large number of organisms and thus represent the most important biogenic resource for humans. For example, various micro- and macrophyta are used as food. However, first and foremost, fish and fishery products offer a valuable and inexpensive source of high-quality animal protein. The livelihood of many people depends on fish, especially in regions of the world designated as ‘developing countries’. Over the last decades, the overall demand for marine products has increased dramatically. About 65% of the world’s population live within 150 km of a coastline, and an estimated 54.8 million people earn their living from fishery products (Hewitt and Campbell 2007; FAO 2011). In 2009, fish accounted for 20% of the total animal protein intake for 3 billion people (FAO 2011). In 2010, 79,500,000 tonnes of marine fish were landed and processed for humans. According to current calculations by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, the average demand for fishery products has risen from around 9.9 kg (live weight equivalent) per capita per year to 18.6 kg (average over the period 1961–2009) (FAO 2012). With an average growth rate of approx. 3.2% per year, the demand for fish is growing faster than the global human population with 1.7%. Fish and fishery products are not only the main resource for protein and micronutrients but are also of enormous economic importance, especially for the leading fish-exporting countries, with a total estimated value of US$ 217.5 billion (FAO 2011, 2012; Woo 2006). With the importance of fishery products for the daily human diet increasing, research into harmful organisms in fish products has also become more important. Besides a number of different viruses (e.g. Birnavirus, Paramyxovirus), bacteria (e.g. Vibrio spp., Flexibacter spp.) and fungi (e.g. Ichthyophonus hoferi, Exophiala spp.), unicellular (protozoic) and multicellular (metazoic) parasites have become of great public interest (Möller and Anders 1983; Muroga 2001; Woo 2006). In the aquatic sector, the level of knowledge about the global diversity of medically important species (pathogens, parasites) varies greatly. Fish are the most diverse vertebrate class in the sea, functioning as intermediate and final hosts for many parasites (Figs. 1 and 2). The high diversity of host species is paralleled by a high diversity of their parasites and has been illustrated in numerous parasite-host checklists for different aquatic ecosystems, in which the respective infection parameters are compared between fish species. Today, fish parasites make up a significant part of marine biodiversity. Based on current lists, three to four parasite species can be found in a single fish specimen (Klimpel et al. 2009). However, these values are determined by factors like habitat, geographical region, fish species, abiotic and biotic factors and their interactions. Thus, water movements, hydrostatic pressure, salinity, temperature and light conditions cannot only affect the composition of aquatic parasites in fish hosts but also food web structures, migration behaviour and predator-prey relationships. Parasites can also be used as biological indicators or markers, which can help evaluate a wide variety of ecological issues and anthropogenic influences on water bodies (Lafferty 1997; MacKenzie et al. 1995; Sasal et al. 2007). For example, they can be used to differentiate local fish stocks (Baldwin et al. 2012; Kijewska et al. 2009; Klapper et al. 2017; MacKenzie 2002; Mattiucci et al. 2007, 2008) or to describe the population dynamics of their hosts (e.g. Arthur and Albert 1993; Mattiucci 2006; Williams et al. 1992). In addition, they are valuable for monitoring environmental stressors such as eutrophication (e.g. Reimer 1995; Valtonen et al. 1997), heavy metal input (Sures et al. 1999; Sures 2003; Sures and Siddall 1999) or industrial pollutants (Madanire-Moyo et al. 2012). Due to their longevity and the fact that they are present in almost all marine food webs at all trophic levels, they can also be used to determine the role of their hosts in the food web (Klimpel et al. 2003a,b; Marcogliese 2002, 2005). A long retention time of their intermediate stages in the hosts enables important ecological information to be collected through a combination of stomach content and parasitological analyses. These include, for example, the type and origin of the individual food organisms or short-term ontogenetic changes in the diet of the host (e.g. Klimpel et al. 2003b; Klimpel and Rückert 2005; Münster et al. 2015). Using parasites as biological indicators is essential for the study of host organisms that do not allow in vivo analysis due to their habitats inaccessibility (e.g. Klimpel and Palm 2011; Lafferty et al. 2008). The co-evolution of marine fish parasites and their hosts benefits the study of important ecological questions using various methods. Depending on the type and the number of hosts required to complete the life cycle of a parasite, a distinction is made between monoxenous (one-host) and heteroxenous (multiple-hosts) parasites (Mehlhorn and Piekarski 2002, Table 1). The host specificity of a parasite, i.e. the degree of its specialisation with regard to the host, can be strict (stenoxenous) or loose (euryxenous). Thus, if the host spectrum of a certain parasite is known, the presence of a parasite can be taken as evidence for the presence of the respective intermediate and final hosts in a specific area, since these hosts are required for the completion of the parasite’s life cycle. Consumption of parasitised fishery products can lead to serious diseases in humans (e.g. Audicana and Kennedy 2008; Klimpel and Palm 2011; Mattiucci and Nascetti 2008). In a globalised world, with networks of trade, increased travel and cultural and demographic changes, the need for studies on the potential risk of fish parasites as pathogens for the host or for humans becomes more pressing.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sven Klimpel
    • 1
  • Thomas Kuhn
    • 2
  • Julian Münster
    • 1
  • Dorian D. Dörge
    • 1
  • Regina Klapper
    • 3
  • Judith Kochmann
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute of Ecology, Evolution and Diversity and Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research CentreGoethe-UniversityFrankfurtGermany
  2. 2.GeldernGermany
  3. 3.Department of Safety and Quality of Milk and Fish ProductsMax Rubner-InstituteHamburgGermany

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