Get access

Affiliations between bacteria and marine fish leeches (Piscicolidae), with emphasis on a deep-sea species from Monterey Canyon, CA


E-mail; Tel. (+1) 323 259 1470; Fax (+1) 323 341 4974.


Leeches within the Piscicolidae are of great numerical and taxonomic importance, yet little is known about bacteria that associate with this diverse group of blood-feeding marine parasites of fish and elasmobranchs. We focused primarily on the bacteria from a deep-sea leech species of unknown identity, collected at ∼ 600 m depth in Monterey Canyon, CA, along with two shallow-living leech genera, Austrobdella and Branchellion, from Los Angeles Harbor, CA. Molecular analysis of all five leech species revealed a dominance of gammaproteobacteria, which were distinct from each other and from previously reported freshwater leech symbionts. Bacteria related to members of the genus Psychromonas (99% similarity in 16S rRNA) were dominant in the deep-sea leech species (80–94% of recovered ribotypes) collected over 19 months from two different locations. Psychromonas was not detected in cocoons or 2–16 week-old juveniles, suggesting that acquisition is via the environment at a later stage. Transmission electron microscopy did, however, reveal abundant bacteria-like cells near areas of thinning of the juvenile epithelial surface, as well as Psychromonas sparsely distributed internally. Electron and fluorescence in situ microscopy of adults also showed Psychromonas-like bacteria concentrated within the crop. Despite the apparent non-transient nature of the association between Psychromonas and the deep-sea leech, their functional role, if any, is not known. The prevalence, however, of an abundant bacterial genus in one piscicolid leech species, as well as the presence of a dominant bacterial species in singular observations of four additional marine species, suggests that members of the Piscicolidae, possibly basal within the class Hirudinea, form specific alliances with microbes.