Parasites in Antarctic krill guts inferred from DNA sequences

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The keystone role of Antarctic krill, Euphausia superba Dana, in Southern Ocean ecosystems, means it is essential to understand the factors controlling their abundance and secondary production. One such factor that remains poorly known is the role of parasites. A recent study of krill diet using DNA analysis of gut contents provided a snapshot of the parasites present within 170 E. superba guts in a small area along the West Antarctic Peninsula. These parasites included Metschnikowia spp. fungi, Haptoglossa sp. peronosporomycetes, Lankesteria and Paralecudina spp. apicomplexa, Stegophorus sp. nematodes, and Pseudocollinia spp. ciliates. Of these parasites, Metschnikowia spp. fungi and Pseudocollinia spp. ciliates had previously been observed in E. superba, as had other genera of apicomplexans, though not Lankesteria and Paralecudina. In contrast, nematodes had previously only been observed in eggs of E. superba, and there are no literature reports of peronosporomycetes in euphausiids. Pseudocollinia spp., parasitoids which obligately kill their host, were the most frequently observed infection, with a prevalence of 12%. The wide range of observed parasites and the relatively high frequency of infections suggest parasites may play a more important role than previously acknowledged in E. superba ecology and population dynamics.

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Antarctic Science