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Diseases of Aquatic Organisms

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DAO 63:247-253 (2005)  -  doi:10.3354/dao063247

Dermatitis, branchitis and mortality in empire gudgeon Hypseleotris compressa exposed naturally to runoff from acid sulfate soils

R. B. Callinan1, J. Sammut3,*, G. C. Fraser2

1NSW Fisheries, Aquatic Animal Health Unit, and 2NSW Agriculture, Regional Veterinary Laboratory, Wollongbar, New South Wales 2477, Australia
3Geography, The University of New South Wales, Sydney, New South Wales 2052, Australia
*Corresponding author. Email:

ABSTRACT: Severe dermatitis and branchitis are described in a wild population of empire gudgeon Hypseleotris compressa, an Australian eleotrid, exposed naturally to runoff from acid sulfate soils (ASS) in a drained estuarine embayment in eastern Australia. After at least 2 d exposure to pH < 4, and up to 7 d exposure to pH < 6, approximately 50% of the fish sampled had moderate to severe diffuse epidermal hyperplasia, usually at scale margins, and scattered areas of moderate to severe, focal to locally extensive, subacute, necrotising dermatitis. Saprolegnia spp. had invaded epidermis in some inflamed areas. In gills, there was moderate to severe hyperplasia and necrosis of secondary lamellar epithelium, with fusion of adjacent secondary lamellae. Inorganic monomeric aluminium and calcium concentrations in water at the site during the event were 27.7 and 16.6 mg l–1, respectively. Large numbers of empire gudgeons at the study site had died after at least 8 d exposure to pH < 4, and up to 13 d exposure to pH < 6. These findings provide clear evidence that acidification of estuarine systems by runoff from ASS has deleterious effects on aquatic biota. Furthermore, study findings suggest a mechanism whereby lesions of epizootic ulcerative syndrome (EUS) may be initiated in estuarine fishes by a combination of sublethal exposure to ASS runoff and Aphanomyces invadans infection, a suggestion consistent with the geographic and temporal distribution of EUS outbreaks in Australian estuaries.

KEY WORDS: Dermatitis · Mortality · Branchitis · Fish · Acid sulfate soils · Saprolegniasis · Epizootic ulcerative syndrome · EUS

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