Myxobolus cerebralis, the parasite that causes salmonid whirling disease, has had detrimental effects on several salmonid populations in the Intermountain West, including the rainbow trout in the Madison River, Montana, USA. The goal of this study was to examine relationships among characteristics of the environment, Tubifex tubifex (the alternate host) populations, and rainbow trout whirling disease risk in the Madison River. Environmental characteristics were measured in side channels of the Madison River, and differences were described with a principal components analysis. The density of T. tubifex, the prevalence of infection in T. tubifex, and the density of infected T. tubifex were determined for the side channels using benthic core samples and examination of live tubificids for infection. The site-specific contribution to whirling disease risk in the side channels was determined using in situ exposures of sentinel rainbow trout. Regression analyses were used to determine correlations among these characteristics. Side channels differed in site-specific contribution to rainbow trout whirling disease risk, which was positively correlated to the density of infected T. tubifex. Side channels with fine sediments and lower water temperatures made greater site-specific contribution to whirling disease risk and had higher densities of infected T. tubifex than side channels with coarser sediments and higher temperatures. The ability to characterize areas of high whirling disease risk is essential for improving our understanding of the dynamics of M. cerebralis such that appropriate management strategies can be implemented. In addition, this study provides a model of how the disease ecology of complex aquatic parasites can be examined when the influential processes operate on different spatial scales. ?? 2006 by the Ecological Society of America.
Additional publication details
Risk of Myxobolus cerebralis infection to rainbow trout in the Madison River, Montana, USA