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Effects of air-exposure gradients on spatial infection patterns of Perkinsus marinus in the eastern oyster Crassostrea virginica.
Malek, J; Breitburg, D.
Spatial distributions of species can be shaped by factors such as parasites, mortality, and reproduction, all of which may be influenced by differences in physical factors along environmental gradients. In nearshore tidal waters, an elevational gradient in aerial exposure during low tide can shape the spatial distributions of benthic marine organisms. The eastern oyster Crassostrea virginica is an ecologically and economically important species that can dominate both subtidal and intertidal habitats along the east coast of the USA. Our goal was to determine whether prevalence and intensity of Perkinsus marinus (the causative agent of Dermo disease) infections vary along intertidal to subtidal gradients during summer. We used (1) field experiments conducted at 4 sites in the Chesapeake Bay and a Virginia coastal bay, (2) a controlled air-exposure experiment, and (3) field surveys from 7 sites ranging from Maine to North Carolina to test for effects of tidal exposure on infection. Results from our field surveys suggested that high intertidal oysters tend to have higher infection prevalence than subtidal oysters, but there was no effect on infection intensity. Field experiments rarely yielded significant effects of tidal exposure on infection prevalence and intensity. Overall, our study shows that exposure to air may not be a strong driver of infection patterns in this host-parasite system.
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