Modelling the impact of temperature-induced life history plasticity and mate limitation on the epidemic potential of a marine ectoparasite

Maya L. Groner, George Gettinby, Marit Stormoen, Crawford W. Revie, Ruth Cox

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

50 Citations (Scopus)
62 Downloads (Pure)


Temperature is hypothesized to contribute to increased pathogenicity and virulence of many marine diseases. The sea louse (Lepeophtheirus salmonis) is an ectoparasite of salmonids that exhibits strong life-history plasticity in response to temperature; however, the effect of temperature on the epidemiology of this parasite has not been rigorously examined. We used matrix population modelling to examine the influence of temperature on demographic parameters of sea lice parasitizing farmed salmon. Demographically-stochastic population projection matrices were created using parameters from the existing literature on vital rates of sea lice at different fixed temperatures and yearly temperature profiles. In addition, we quantified the effectiveness of a single stage-specific control applied at different times during a year with seasonal temperature changes. We found that the epidemic potential of sea lice increased with temperature due to a decrease in generation time and an increase in the net reproductive rate. In addition, mate limitation constrained population growth more at low temperatures than at high temperatures. Our model predicts that control measures targeting preadults and chalimus are most effective regardless of the temperature. The predictions from this model suggest that temperature can dramatically change vital rates of sea lice and can increase population growth. The results of this study suggest that sea surface temperatures should be considered when choosing salmon farm sites and designing management plans to control sea louse infestations. More broadly, this study demonstrates the utility of matrix population modelling for epidemiological studies. 

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere88465
Number of pages11
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 5 Feb 2014


  • marine ectoparasites
  • marine diseases
  • Lepeophtheirus salmonis
  • sea louse
  • sea surface temperatures
  • salmon farming


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