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Significant damage to crustacean fisheries worldwide has been associated with Hematodinium sp. It has been postulated that Hematodinium sp. requires passage through the water column and/or intermediate hosts to complete its life cycle. Thus, an understanding of the prevalence and seasonality of Hematodinium sp. within environmentally-derived samples should yield insight into potential modes of disease transmission, and how these relate to infection cycles in hosts.
We conducted a two year survey, from 2010–2011, in which 48 of 546 (8.8%) of environmental samples from the Maryland and Virginia coastal bays were positive for Hematodinium sp. between April and November, as based upon endpoint PCR analysis specific to blue crab isolates. Detection in both water and sediment was roughly equivalent, and there were no obvious seasonal patterns. However, there was a high detection in April water samples, which was unanticipated owing to the fact that crabs infected with Hematodinium sp. have not been observed in this early month of the seasonal disease cycle. Focusing on three sites of high prevalence (Sinnickson, VA; Tom’s Cove, VA; and Newport Bay, MD) Hematodinium sp. population diversity was analyzed using standard cloning methods. Of 131 clones, 109 (83.2%) were identical, 19 displayed a single nucleotide substitution, and 4 contain two nucleotide substitutions.
Our data suggests a continuous presence of Hematodinium sp. in both water and sediment of a combined Maryland and Virginia coastal bay ecosystem. The detection of Hematodinium sp. in the water column in April is an earlier manifestation of the parasite than predicted, pointing to an as yet unknown stage in its development prior to infection. That the population is relatively homogenous ranging from April to November, at three distinct sites, supports a hypothesis that one species of Hematodinium is responsible for infections within the ecosystem.