Abstract

The prevalence, intensity, and abundance of sea lice belonging to Lepeophtheirus or Caligus clemensi are reported from threespine stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus) collected from the Broughton Archipelago region of coastal British Columbia, Canada, between 2005 and 2008. In total, 25,130 sea lice were collected from 7,684 sticklebacks. The prevalence of Lepeophtheirus ranged from 51% in 2005 to 11% in 2008 and that of C. clemensi from 56% in 2007 to 24% in 2008. Chalimus stages accounted for approximately 69% of all Lepeophtheirus and 88% of Caligus specimens. Cytochrome c oxidase subunit 1 (COI) gene sequences, useful in distinguishing reference specimens belonging to 8 species of Lepeophtheirus, Caligus, and Bomolochus, were used to identify the Lepeophtheirus specimens from stickleback as L. salmonis (71%) and L. cuneifer (29%). A COI phylogenetic analysis confirmed a monophylogenetic origin of Lepeophtheirus but not of Caligus. Two genotypes were resolved in L. cuneifer, i.e., genotype A occurred twice as often as genotype B. Virtually all immature Lepeophtheirus specimens from juvenile salmon were L. salmonis. The results emphasized the need to accurately identify immature sea lice as a prerequisite to understanding sea lice ecology. The threespine stickleback may be a useful sentinel species for the abundance and diversity of the sea lice that are also parasites of wild and farmed salmon in coastal ecosystems in British Columbia.

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