SEA Currents: News
May 23, 2019
A Hitchhikers Guide to the Sargasso Sea
Researchers study the isopod parasite infecting slender Sargassum shrimp
Known as the slender Sargassum shrimp, Latreutes fucorum plays a critical role in the Sargasso Sea ecosystem, but could a common parasite be a threat? Students of SEA’s Marine Biodiversity and Conservation program recently returned from a six-week voyage sailing north through the Atlantic aboard the tall ship ocean research vessel SSV Corwith Cramer. The research team made up of Jane Sheng, Will Sandke, and Leah Martinez was one of several teams conducting research on the Sargasso Sea. They focused on the common bopyrid isopod parasite (Probopyrinella latreuticola) that is infecting the endemic Sargassum shrimp (Latreutes fucorum). After analyzing their data, they found high genetic diversity among parasites but no significant population structure.
The cruise track went from Key West, Florida to New York City, New York with a four-day port stop in Bermuda. The majority of the cruise was spent in the Sargasso Sea - a region of the North Atlantic characterized by mats and clumps of floating golden-brown seaweed called Sargassum. The Sargassum serves as a unique habitat for the mobile fauna that call it home. The Sargasso also serves as an important habitat for megafauna like sharks, whales, dolphins, and sea turtles. There are ten endemic species of mobile fauna, one of which is the Latreutes fucorum. L. fucorum is an important food source for other species in the Sargasso. Recent studies have shown that L. fucorum is being parasitized by a bopyrid isopod that attaches itself under the shrimp’s carapace to its gills.
The research team was interested in determining rates of parasitism and assessing the population genetics of the parasite itself. They collected clumps and fragments of Sargassum via dip netting during daily science stations and mobile fauna were identified and saved. The researchers removed the parasite from the shrimp and extracted its DNA for sequencing. In total 99 parasites from all over the Sargasso Sea were sequenced.
The Sargasso Sea is an extremely important location for conservation and every species matters. This research is an important foundation for understanding the host parasite relationship between the isopod and the Sargassum shrimp.