Spatial and temporal disease dynamics of the parasite Hematodinium sp. in shore crabs, Carcinus maenas.
Background: The parasitic dinoflagellates of the genus Hematodinium represent the causative agent of so-called bitter or pink crab disease in a broad range of shellfish taxa. Outbreaks of Hematodinium-associated disease can devastate local fishing and aquaculture efforts. The goal of our study was to examine the potential role of the common shore (green) crab Carcinus maenas as a reservoir for Hematodinium. Carcinus maenas is native to all shores of the UK and Ireland and the North East Atlantic but has been introduced to, and subsequently invaded waters of, the USA, South Africa and Australia. This species is notable for its capacity to harbour a range of micro- and macro-parasites, and therefore may act as a vector for disease transfer. Methods: Over a 12-month period, we interrogated 1191 crabs across two distinct locations (intertidal pier, semi-closed dock) in Swansea Bay (Wales, UK) for the presence and severity of Hematodinium in the haemolymph, gills, hepatopancreas and surrounding waters (eDNA) using PCR-based methods, haemolymph preparations and histopathology. Results: Overall, 13.6% were Hematodinium-positive via PCR and confirmed via tissue examination. Only a small difference was observed between locations with 14.4% and 12.8% infected crabs in the Dock and Pier, respectively. Binomial logistic regression models revealed seasonality (P<0.002) and sex (P<0.001) to be significant factors in Hematodinium detection with peak infection recorded in spring (March to May). Male crabs overall were more likely to be infected. Phylogenetic analyses of the partial ITS and 18S rRNA gene regions of Hematodinium amplified from crabs determined the causative agent to be the host generalist Hematodinium sp., which blights several valuable crustaceans in the UK alone, including edible crabs (Cancer pagurus) and langoustines (Nephrops norvegicus). Conclusions: Shore crabs were infected with the host generalist parasite Hematodinium sp. in each location tested, thereby enabling the parasite to persist in an environment shared with commercially important shellfish.