The sea louse Caligus rogercresseyi is the most important pathogen causing "caligidosis" in the Chilean salmon industry. In this study, using cox1 gene, we evaluate the genetic variation of C. rogercresseyi from farmed Salmo salar along a latitudinal range (40°-52°S) in south Chile to determine whether morphological differences are explained by genetic or environmental factors. Female parasites were randomly collected from S. salar at five farms. Body variation was examined using multivariate analyses and genetic heterogeneity was explored with AMOVA. C. rogercresseyi exhibited significant morphometric variability among sites and parasites collected from >54°S were the longest ones. Parasites did not show genetic structure among farms. Thus, C. rogercresseyi infesting salmons is panmictic along an extensive latitudinal range in south Chile. The same genetic pattern can be explained by the frequent movement of parasitized S. salar among farms in that region. Phenotypic plasticity in parasites could be explained by natural or aquaculture-mediated environment variability. C. rogercreseyi from 54°S could favor the local spread of this disease, suggesting an immediate health risk for the recent salmon industry in that region. Further research is required to confirm genetic homogeneity of this parasite along its geographical distribution using more powerful markers (e.g. SNPs).
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