Lighten up the dark: metazoan parasites as indicators for the ecology of Antarctic crocodile icefish (Channichthyidae) from the north-west Antarctic Peninsula
Due to its remote and isolated location, Antarctica is home to a unique diversity of species. The harsh conditions have shaped a primarily highly adapted endemic fauna. This includes the notothenioid family Channichthyidae. Their exceptional physiological adaptations have made this family of icefish the focus of many studies. However, studies on their ecology, especially on their parasite fauna, are comparatively rare. Parasites, directly linked to the food chain, can function as biological indicators and provide valuable information on host ecology (e.g., trophic interactions) even in remote habitats with limited accessibility, such as the Southern Ocean. In the present study, channichthyid fish (Champsocephalus gunnari: n = 25, Chaenodraco wilsoni: n = 33, Neopagetopsis ionah: n = 3, Pagetopsis macropterus: n = 4, Pseudochaenichthys georgianus: n = 15) were collected off South Shetland Island, Elephant Island, and the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula (CCAML statistical subarea 48.1). The parasite fauna consisted of 14 genera and 15 species, belonging to the six taxonomic groups including Digenea (four species), Nematoda (four), Cestoda (two), Acanthocephala (one), Hirudinea (three), and Copepoda (one). The stomach contents were less diverse with only Crustacea (Euphausiacea, Amphipoda) recovered from all examined fishes. Overall, 15 new parasite-host records could be established, and possibly a undescribed genotype or even species might exist among the nematodes.