Composition and diversity patterns in metazoan parasite communities and anthropogenic disturbance in stream ecosystems

A. D. HERNANDEZ a1c1, J. F. BUNNELL a2 and M. V. K. SUKHDEO a1
a1 Department of Ecology, Evolution and Natural Resources, and Graduate Program in Ecology and Evolution, Rutgers – The State University, 14 College Farm Road, New Brunswick, New Jersey 08901, USA
a2 Pinelands Commission, P.O. Box 7, New Lisbon, New Jersey 08064, USA

Article author query
hernandez ad   [PubMed][Google Scholar] 
bunnell jf   [PubMed][Google Scholar] 
sukhdeo mv   [PubMed][Google Scholar] 


The composition and diversity of metazoan parasite communities in naturally depauperate ecosystems are rarely studied. This study describes the composition of helminth endoparasite communities infecting fish that are part of naturally acidic stream ecosystems in the coastal-plains region of the State of New Jersey (USA) known as the Pinelands, and compares the diversity of parasites between six streams that differ in anthropogenic disturbance. A total of 514 fish were examined representing 6 species native but restricted to the Pinelands region, 5 species native and widespread throughout the region and State, and 6 species introduced to the Pinelands and State. Fish (prevalence: 78%) were infected with 18 helminth endoparasite species. In most streams, prevalence of infection, mean abundance, and total number of individuals for the 5 most common parasites were higher in pirate perch, a native fish species. The diversity of helminth endoparasite communities measured as species richness and Shannon index was higher in degraded streams, and especially in native or introduced fish at these sites. Parasite diversity was positively correlated with anthropogenic disturbance, which was measured by water pH, water conductance, and the proportion of agricultural and developed land surrounding streams. Helminth community composition included parasites intimately tied to trophic interactions in food webs, and disturbance to these ecosystems results in changes to these communities. Understanding structure and function of animal communities from these naturally depauperate ecosystems is important before continued anthropogenic changes result in the extirpation or extinction of their unique fauna.

(Received May 8 2006)
(Revised June 14 2006)
(Revised July 17 2006)
(Accepted July 18 2006)
(Published Online October 11 2006)

Key Words: black waters; coastal plains; community structure; degradation; parasitism; Pinelands; New Jersey.

c1 Department of Biological Sciences, Florida International University, Miami, Florida 33199, USA. Tel: +305 348 7314. Fax: +305 348 1986. E-mail: