Gyrodactylus salaris infects numerous salmonid species, ranging from the fully susceptible (Norwegian strains of Salmo
salar), through species which, though initially susceptible, eventually eliminate their infections (Salvelinus alpinus and S.
fontinalis) to entirely resistant (Salmo trutta) species. Here we describe experiments in which Salvelinus alpinus, S.
fontinalis and Salmo trutta, implanted with hydrocortisone acetate to simulate stress-induced immunosuppression, were
challenged with G. salaris. With previously uninfected Salvelinus fontinalis, G. salaris infections on fish treated with
hydrocortisone acetate grew larger, and for longer, than on sham-treated controls. A similar result was obtained with S.
trutta. Patterns of infection on Arctic charr, Salvelinus alpinus, were more complex, because individual fish varied from
susceptible to highly resistant. Fish were therefore initially infected with G. salaris, and the most highly resistant group
of individuals identified and disinfected. After 6 months recovery from this primary infection, hydrocortisone acetate was
administered to half the fish, and all were challenged with G. salaris. Parasite populations on the hydrocortisone-treated
individuals were consistently larger than those on the sham-treated controls, exceeding 30 parasites per fish after 5 weeks,
in comparison with less than 10 parasites per fish on controls. These results indicate that hydrocortisone administration
can lead to enhanced gyrodactylid populations on a range of salmonids. This suggests that the response to G. salaris is
mediated by the immune system, and that the spectrum of responses observed in different species are, at least in part, due
to the same mechanism. At a practical level, stress-induced immunosuppression during handling and transport of cultured
salmonids may prove an important factor in the dissemination of G. salaris between watersheds.