DAO 61:241-255 (2004)  -  doi:10.3354/dao061241

Population dynamics, infestation and host selection of Vexilla vexillum, an ectoparasitic muricid of echinoids, in Madagascar

Devarajen Vaïtilingon1,3,*, Igor Eeckhaut2,3, Didier Fourgon1,3, Michel Jangoux1,2,3

1Laboratoire de Biologie Marine, CP 160/15, Université Libre de Bruxelles, Avenue F. D. Roosevelt 50, 1050 Bruxelles, Belgium
2Laboratoire de Biologie Marine, Université de Mons-Hainaut, 7000 Mons, Belgium
3Aqua-lab, Institut Halieutique et des Sciences Marines, Université de Tuléar, BP 141, 601 Tuléar, Madagascar

ABSTRACT: The symbiotic interaction, population and infestation dynamics of the muricid Vexilla vexillum (Gmelin, 1791) on 2 echinoid species, Tripneustes gratilla (Linnaeus, 1785) and Echinometra mathaei (Blainville, 1825), was investigated on the barrier reef off Toliara (Madagascar). V. vexillum is an ectoparasitic muricid which was exclusively found in association with sea urchins, on which it moves freely and browses over the integument. Host recovery from damage caused by muricid grazing was dependent on lesion size. Small lesions regenerated while larger ones were subjected to secondary infections, which led to host death. A 27 mo survey (2000 to 2003) of the muricid’s population dynamics revealed annual recruitment episodes during the mid-summer season (December to January). Patterns of recruitment peaks were apparently linked to its reproductive cycle. Demographic parameters including growth and mortality rates of the muricid were estimated from analysis of size-frequency distributions. Growth was described by the von Bertalanffy function. The model predicts that V. vexillum is a fast-growing species in which asymptotic shell length (L = 1.024 cm) is reached 6 to 7 mo after recruitment. The growth rate constant K, and shell length at settlement L0, were estimated from the model. Estimated mortality rate was 55% yr–1; V. vexillum has a short lifespan. The observed high growth rate together with the high mortality rate suggest that V. vexillum is a semelparous species. A field survey of the infestation dynamics of V. vexillum was performed during 3 consecutive years, with seasonal variation in parasite prevalence on both echinoid host species. Although both T. gratilla and E. mathaei were infested, a preference towards T. gratilla was noted. This was attributed to T. gratilla‘s test morphology (which allows better accessibility for grazing), to the muricid’s higher recognition capacity of T. gratilla (as determined by olfactory experiments) and to the high recruitment predictability of that particular host. This study provides novel information on the biology of V. vexillum, an echinoid epidermal grazer, and its relationship with 2 ecologically and economically important echinoid species.

KEY WORDS: Echinoidea · Host recognition · Infestation · Parasitism · Population dynamics

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