CReefs builds networks of experts

Dr Rob Adlard in the research lab.
Image: Gary Cranitch.


14 September 2010
The CReefs Australia project is not just making new scientific discoveries, it is also building new professional networks, according to Dr Rob Adlard of the Queensland Museum.
Dr Adlard is one of a team of scientists studying parasites in fishes on the CReefs expedition to Lizard Island this month. He is focusing on microscopic parasites known as Myxozoa, which can be found in various tissues, including the gall bladder, brain, muscle and heart of fish. His particular interest is in myxozoans of the genus Kudoa.
"We are trying to map parasite species to their host groups or to the tissues they infect. Are all the species found in brains related? Is there a geographical link – are the species on the Great Barrier Reef more closely related to each other than to than those found, for example, on the pacific coast of North America?" he says.
"The closest correlation we're getting is the association with the tissue in which they are found, so the species found in brain tissue appear more closely related to each other than they are to those that live in the muscle or in the wall of the intestine.
"Lizard Island is very rich in myxozoans compared with what we've seen at Heron Island, which is the other place we've sampled the best. We've also done some limited sampling in French Polynesia, and it seems to be depauperate: parasites aren't present at the same levels there as they are on the Great Barrier Reef," he explains.
"We're not sure whether that's related to the structure of the reef, the host species, the water temperature or some other factor, although it looks as though diversity decreases as you move east across the Pacific," he says.
Dr Adlard has studied parasites in fishes on the Great Barrier Reef for many years, but this is his first CReefs field trip.
"This trip is important because it gives us another opportunity to sample biodiversity, but also because it provides an opportunity to interact with experts in related fields," he says.
Parasites can have two, three or even four hosts within a life-cycle. They have been found in polychaetes, a group of marine worms, and also in bryozoans, tiny invertebrate organisms that create colonies on rocks or dead coral in coral reefs.
"Parasites have been recorded from polychaetes and bryozoans, and on this trip we've got polychaete specialist Dr Pat Hutchings and bryozoan authority Phil Bock. It is great to work with the experts in the field and to compare notes," Dr Adlard says.
"Parasitology clearly has a central focus on the interaction between species, so in this system we are interested in the fish, the parasite and the invertebrate intermediate host – now that is what makes it fascinating to us."