Recording the biodiversity of parasites in Antarctic marine invertebrates is the main objective for a group of researchers from the Research Center Dynamics of High Latitude Marine Ecosystems (IDEAL) of the Universidad Austral de Chile.

The IDEAL Center team collecting marine invertebrates.

As part of the Antarctic Scientific Expedition (ECA) 54, a team consisting of Dr. Leyla Cárdenas heads up a team that also includes three marine biologists and divers (Abel Sandaña, Tarin Araneda, Andreas Schimider) and a Master’s student in genetics at the Universidad Austral de Chile (Daniela Levicoy). The team performs daily dives for marine samples in order to collect marine invertebrates (bivalves and gastropods). The parasites of these invertebrates are extracted and analyzed under a magnifying glass and microscope.

“Parasites of Antarctic marine invertebrates have been studied little. Since information on them is not abundant, there is a need to gather basic information that will help us understand their biological processes,” explains Dr. Cárdenas.

As a result, the research, co-financed by a project of the Chilean Antarctic Institute, seeks to identify the reservoir of existing parasites with the goal of determining genetic biodiversity and advancing knowledge of the parasite life cycles. To do this, scientists in the laboratory at O’Higgins Base analyze whether or not the samples collected are parasitized in order to determine the current health of the invertebrates.

“Once we collect the parasites, we analyze what they are, where they are, and how many there are. Later, we will take the samples to the laboratories of the Universidad Austral de Chile, where we will perform gene sequencing, which will allow us to compare them with other species,” says the researcher.

La Dra. Leyla Cárdenas en Base O’Higgins.

The first observations made by Dr. Cárdenas and her team at O’Higgins Base indicate that some parasites cause reproductive castration of marine invertebrates, which could lead to a decrease in the population of such species there. Determining the parasitic load will help scientists understand how these organisms react under stress or to new environmental conditions such as climate change.

“Knowing the parasitic load will eventually help us find which species are more susceptible to getting sick,” concludes Dr. Cárdenas.