Understanding the environmental and anthropogenic factors influencing the probability of occurrence of the marine parasitic species is fundamental for determining the circumstances under which they can act as bioindicators of environmental impact. The aim of this study was to determine whether physicochemical variables, polyaromatic hydrocarbons or sewage discharge affect the probability of occurrence of the larval cestode Oncomegas wageneri, which infects the shoal flounder, Syacium gunteri, in the southern Gulf of Mexico.
The study area included 162 sampling sites in the southern Gulf of Mexico and covered 288,205 km(2), where the benthic sediments, water and the shoal flounder individuals were collected. We used the boosted generalised additive models (boosted GAM) and the MaxEnt to examine the potential statistical relationships between the environmental variables (nutrients, contaminants and physicochemical variables from the water and sediments) and the probability of the occurrence of this parasite. The models were calibrated using all of the sampling sites (full area) with and without parasite occurrences (n = 162) and a polygon area that included sampling sites with a depth of 1500 m or less (n = 134).
Oncomegas wageneri occurred at 29/162 sampling sites. The boosted GAM for the full area and the polygon area accurately predicted the probability of the occurrence of O. wageneri in the study area. By contrast, poor probabilities of occurrence were obtained with the MaxEnt models for the same areas. The variables with the highest frequencies of appearance in the models (proxies for the explained variability) were the polyaromatic hydrocarbons of high molecular weight (PAHH, 95 %), followed by a combination of nutrients, spatial variables and polyaromatic hydrocarbons of low molecular weight (PAHL, 5 %).
The contribution of the PAHH to the variability was explained by the fact that these compounds, together with N and P, are carried by rivers that discharge into the ocean, which enhances the growth of hydrocarbonoclastic bacteria and the productivity and number of the intermediate hosts. Our results suggest that sites with PAHL/PAHH ratio values up to 1.89 promote transmission based on the high values of the prevalence of O. wageneri in the study area. In contrast, PAHL/PAHH ratio values ≥ 1.90 can be considered harmful for the transmission stages of O. wageneri and its hosts (copepods, shrimps and shoal flounders). Overall, the results indicate that the PAHHs affect the probability of occurrence of this helminth parasite in the southern Gulf of Mexico.