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Abstract

Many ecosystems are influenced simultaneously by multiple stressors. One important environmental stressor is aquatic pollution via wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) effluents. WWTP effluents may contribute to eutrophication or contain anthropogenic contaminants that directly and/or indirectly influence aquatic wildlife. Both eutrophication and exposure to anthropogenic contaminants may affect the dynamics of fish-parasite systems. With this in mind, we studied the impact of WWTP effluents on infection of brown trout by the parasite Tetracapsuloides bryosalmonae, the causative agent of proliferative kidney disease (PKD). PKD is associated with the long-term decline of wild brown trout (Salmo trutta) populations in Switzerland. We investigated PKD infection of brown trout at two adjacent sites (≈400 m apart) of a Swiss river. The sites are similar in terms of ecology except that one site receives WWTP effluents. We evaluated the hypothesis that fish inhabiting the effluent site will show greater susceptibility to PKD in terms of prevalence and disease outcome. We assessed susceptibility by (i) infection prevalence, (ii) parasite intensity, (iii) host health in terms of pathology, and (iv) estimated apparent survival rate. At different time points during the study, significant differences between sites concerning all measured parameters were found, thus providing evidence of the influence of effluents on parasitic infection of fish in our study system. However, from these findings we cannot determine if the effluent has a direct influence on the fish host via altering its ability to manage the parasite, or indirectly on the parasite or the invertebrate host via increasing bryozoa (the invertebrate host) reproduction. On a final note, the WWTP adhered to all national guidelines and the effluent only resulted in a minor water quality reduction assessed via standardized methods in this study. Thus, we provide evidence that even a subtle decrease in water quality, resulting in small-scale pollution can have consequences for wildlife.

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