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The state of fish parasite discovery and taxonomy: a critical assessment and a look forward

Poulin, Robert, Presswell, Bronwen, Jorge, Fátima
International journal for parasitology 2019
adults, aquaculture, biodiversity, climate change, disease control, fish, fisheries, genetic variation, helminths, hosts, inventories, microbiome, new species, taxon descriptions
Efforts to find and characterise new parasite species in fish hosts are crucial not just to complete our inventory of Earth’s biodiversity, but also to monitor and mitigate disease threats in fisheries and aquaculture in the face of global climate change. Here, we review recent quantitative assessments of research efforts into fish parasite discovery and taxonomy. We address broad questions including: Are efforts aimed at finding new parasite species targeted at geographical hotspots of fish biodiversity, where there should be more parasite species to be found? Is the application of molecular tools to study parasite genetic diversity deployed strategically across regions of the world, or focused disproportionately on certain areas? How well coordinated is the search for new parasite species of fish among workers specialising on different higher helminth taxa? Are parasite discovery efforts in any geographical area consistent over time, or subject to idiosyncrasies due to the waxing and waning of highly prolific research careers? Is the quality of taxonomic descriptions of new species improving over time, with the incorporation of new tools to characterise species? Are taxonomic descriptions moving away from a focus on the adult stage only toward attempts to characterise the full life cycle of newly-discovered helminth species? By using empirical evidence to answer these questions, we assess the current state of research into fish parasite discovery and taxonomy. We also explore the far-reaching implications of recent research on parasite microbiomes for parasite taxonomy. We end with recommendations aimed at maximising the knowledge gained per fish sacrificed, and per dollar and time invested into research on fish parasite biodiversity.