Salmon lice are ectoparasites that threaten wild and farmed salmonids. Artificial selection of salmon for resistance to the infectious copepodid lice stage currently relies on in vivo challenge trials on thousands of salmon a year. We challenged 5750 salmon with salmon lice (Lepeophtheirus salmonis) from two distinct farmed strains of salmon in two separate trials. We found that volatile organic compounds (VOC), 1-penten-3-ol, 1-octen-3-ol and 6-methyl-5-hepten-2-one in the mucus of the salmon host after salmon lice infection, were significantly associated with lice infection numbers across a range of water temperatures (5 °C, 10 °C, 17 °C). Some VOCs (benzene, 1-octen-3-ol and 3,5,5-trimethyl-2-hexene) were significantly different between lines divergently selected for salmon lice resistance. In a combined population assessment, selected VOCs varied between families in the range of 47- 59% indicating a genetic component and were positively correlated to the salmon hosts estimated breeding values 0.59-0.74. Mucosal VOC phenotypes could supplement current breeding practices and have the potential to be a more direct and ethical proxy for salmon lice resistance provided they can be measured prior to lice infestation.
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