Has the introduction of brown trout altered disease patterns in native New Zealand fish?


David W. Kelly, Landcare Research, 764 Cumberland Street, Private Bag 1930, Dunedin 9054, New Zealand. E-mail:


1. It is well recognised that non-indigenous species (NIS) can affect native communities via the ‘spillover’ of introduced parasites. However, two other potentially important processes, the ‘spillback’ of native parasites from a competent NIS host, where the latter acts as a reservoir leading to amplified infection in native hosts, and the ‘dilution’ of parasitism by a NIS host acting as a sink for native parasites, have either not been tested or largely overlooked.

2. We surveyed the helminth parasite fauna of native New Zealand fish in Otago streams that varied in the abundance of introduced brown trout Salmo trutta, to look for evidence of spillback and/or dilution. Spillover is not an issue in this system, with trout introduced as parasite-free eggs.

3. Seven native parasite species were present across 12 sites; significant inverse relationships with an index of trout abundance (i.e. dilution) were documented for three species infecting the native upland bully Gobiomorphus breviceps, and one species infecting the native roundhead galaxias Galaxias anomalus.

4. An inverse relationship between bully energy status and infection intensity of one parasite species suggests that parasite dilution could have positive effects on bully populations. Our failure to detect similar relationships for the other parasites does not preclude the possibility that dilution is beneficial to native fish, since parasites may have subtle or unmeasured impacts.

5. The parasite dilution patterns reported are compelling in that they occurred across several native host and parasite species; as such they have important implications for invasion ecology, providing an interesting contrast to the largely negative impacts reported for NIS. Mechanisms potentially responsible for the patterns observed are discussed.