Stiftung Tierärztliche Hochschule Hannover (TiHo)TiHo eLib

Back from exile? First records of chewing lice (Lutridia exilis; Ischnocera; Mallophaga) in growing Eurasian otter (Lutra lutra) populations from Northern Germany

Arthropod ectoparasites of aquatic wildlife often have complex relationships with their host species that have developed over long evolutionary time scales. Specialist parasite occurrence might depend on these hosts’ distributions. Eurasian otter (Lutra lutra) populations are recovering in Northern German federal states, such as Schleswig-Holstein and Lower Saxony. Chewing lice (Lutridia exilis; Ischnocera; Mallophaga) are considered otter-specific yet rare parasites in their known range. In 2022, they were recorded for the first time on nine otters found dead in Northern Germany. All otters originated from the years 2021–2022 and were dissected during population health monitoring programs in 2022. Females (n = 6) were 0–5.5 years old and showed signs of disease in five cases. Males (n = 3), in contrast, were 0–1.6 years old and showed disease in a single case. Individual lice intensity of infection ranged from 1 to 75 specimens per otter. No direct adverse health effects of chewing lice on the otters were noted. Lutridia exilis morphological characteristics were documented and measurements were taken to study specialized adaptations that allow lice to attach to semi-aquatic otters. In addition, morphology was compared between lice from different geographical regions and specimens from previous reports. A region of the COI mDNA was amplified to molecularly characterize L. exilis for the first time and detect genetic differences between otter lice populations in Germany. It is believed that specialist parasites reduce in numbers even before their host populations decline. Recovering otter populations in Northern Germany could be an example of a reverse effect, where the comeback of a host species results in the return of a specialist parasite, which reflects an ultimate boost in overall species biodiversity.

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