Harmless sea snail parasite causes mass mortalities in numerous commercial scallop populations in the northern hemisphere

Mark Andrew Freeman, Árni Kristmundsson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Apicomplexans comprise a group of unicellular, often highly pathogenic, obligate parasites exploiting either one or two hosts to complete a full reproductive cycle. For decades, various scallop populations have suffered cyclical mass mortality events, several of which shown to be caused by apicomplexan infections. We report the first dual mollusc life cycle for an apicomplexan: a species highly pathogenic in various pectinid bivalve species, but apathogenic when infecting the common whelk as Merocystis kathae. The sympatric distribution of the common whelk and scallops in the North Atlantic makes transmission extremely effective, occurring via the gastrointestinal tract, by scavenging and predation in whelks and unselective filter feeding in scallops. Infective sporozoites from whelks utilize scallops´ haemocytes to reach muscular tissue, where asexual reproduction occurs. Phylogenetically, this apicomplexan is robustly placed within the Aggregatidae and its inclusion in analyses supports a common ancestry with other basal invertebrate apicomplexans. Scallops seem able to regulate lowlevel infections of M. kathae as they exist in normal populations while epizootics occur during high levels of exposure from locally infected whelks. A targeted removal of whelks from valuable scallop grounds would be advantageous to minimize the occurrence of M. kathae epizootics and prevent damaging economic losses.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages7865
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 18 May 2018

Other keywords

  • Multidisciplinary
  • Parasitology
  • Apicomplexans
  • Scallop
  • Sníklar
  • Sníkjulíf
  • Skeldýr


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