In the larval stage of the parasitic copepod Lepeophtheirus salmonis, the free-living copepodid must locate and settle on a salmonid host. Chemosensory mechanisms play a role in determining whether a potential host is suitable for attachment, yet the full suite of chemical cues and resulting behavioral mechanisms used are unknown. After maturing, pre-adult female and adult male salmon lice aggregate upon salmonid hosts for reproduction. Copepodid salmon lice have been observed preferentially infesting hosts that harbor conspecific adults. The aim of this study was to investigate the possibility that salmon lice copepodids perceive and respond to cues from pre-adult female, adult-male, and/or gravid female salmon lice. Behavioral bioassays were conducted in vitro with copepodids exposed to water conditioned with 3 stages of conspecific lice (pre-adult female, adult male, or gravid female), and seawater conditioned with Atlantic salmon Salmo salar Linnaeus, 1758. Experiments demonstrated that copepodids exposed to water conditioned with the salmon host, pre-adult female, or adult male salmon lice significantly altered their behavior, whereas salmon lice exposed to water conditioned with gravid females did not. These results are potentially valuable in the development of novel methods for mitigation of L. salmonis in the salmon aquaculture industry.
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