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Influence of environmental changes in the north-western Atlantic Ocean on a parasite, Echinorhynchus gadi (Acanthocephala) of Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua) occurring off coastal Labrador, Canada

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 September 2008

R.A. Khan*
Department of Biology, Memorial University, St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada, A1B 3X9
*Fax: +1 (709) 737-4000 E-mail:


A study was conducted to determine the influence of environmental change on an endoparasite, Echinorhynchus gadi (Acanthocephala) of Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua) over a 30-year period off the coast of Labrador in the north-western Atlantic, North Atlantic Fisheries Organization subareas 2J–3K. Cod, once an abundant fish species that had been commercially exploited for many decades, declined precipitously during the mid-1980s onwards. This decline was attributed to climatic changes that affected the entire food chain from zooplankton to fish, sea birds and marine mammals. A monitoring programme was introduced, sampling cod by otter trawling using research vessels. The fish, after capture, were frozen at − 20°C, subsequently thawed and the digestive tract removed and examined for the parasite in 2006. Data from samples taken in 1976, 1980–81, 1986, 1990, 2000 and 2003 were compared statistically with those collected in 2006. The results indicate a decline in the prevalence and mean abundance of E. gadi in 1986 with a minimum in 2000 but increasing gradually in 2003 and 2006. These changes were coincident initially with a decline of oceanic temperature and the entire food web, including capelin (Mallotus villosus), a preferred prey of cod and primary source of E. gadi. The increase in prevalence and mean abundance of the parasite in 2006 were associated with an increase of oceanic temperature and the return of small schools of capelin to offshore areas. Cod older than 4 years harboured a greater abundance of E. gadi than younger fish, while no difference was observed between the sexes. The results suggest that the abundance of E. gadi can be useful as a bioindicator of environmental changes in the north-western Atlantic.

Research Papers
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2008

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