Biology Faculty Articles


Pollution and parasitism in aquatic animals: a meta-analysis of effect size

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Aquatic Toxicology







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Numerous studies have indicated that aquatic pollution affects parasite populations and communities. However, the responses of individual taxa and functional groups to specific contaminants, and their effect sizes, have yet to be assessed quantitatively. We began by summarizing general trends in the literature, and found that reports of significant changes in parasitism were most commonly observed in response to eutrophication and metal contamination. Among parasite taxa, significant changes were most commonly reported for acanthocephalans, digeneans and microparasites. We then conducted a quantitative meta-analysis of the effects of pollution on parasitism in aquatic animals. We calculated signed standardized effect sizes (as Cohen's d) for all published studies that provided the necessary descriptive statistics, and compared them among major contaminant types (pesticides, hydrocarbons, polychlorinated biphenyls, pulp mill effluent, metals, sewage, eutrophication, and acidification) and parasite taxa (Acanthocephala, Cestoda, Digenea, Monogenea, Nematoda and microparasites). Effect sizes were not significantly different from zero for many parasite/contaminant interactions, and tended to be highly variable within individual taxa. However, consistently strong, significant negative effects were noted in Digenea and Monogenea, especially in response to metal pollution. Significant effect sizes were typically negative, indicating that pollutants have negative effects on parasite populations. Contaminants also had a slightly negative effect on community richness. When parasites were grouped into heteroxenous (with >1 obligatory host in life cycle) vs. monoxenous (1 obligatory host in life cycle) taxa, the latter were more susceptible to a wide range of pollutants. Similarly, directly exposed (external parasites and the free-living transmission stages of internal parasites) and freshwater taxa were more susceptible to a wider range of pollutants than indirectly exposed (internal parasites) and marine taxa. This meta-analysis represented a first attempt to consider the size of the effect of pollution on parasites, and highlighted the potential of susceptible parasite taxa, communities, and functional groups for use in the biological assessment of pollution. For instance, our results indicate that freshwater monogeneans and digeneans are good candidates as potential biological indicators of pollution in aquatic ecosystems.

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