CORDIS - EU research results

Parasites in Antarctic Krill: diversity, distribution & impact

Project description

Multidisciplinary approaches shed light on tiny crustaceans that carry a large parasitic load

The tiny Antarctic krill found in the Southern Ocean is a species with a big impact on the Antarctic ecosystem. The small crustacean swims in large groups and, in terms of biomass, is one of the most abundant animal species on the planet. By eating phytoplankton and excreting carbon and nutrient-rich pellets that sink to the ocean floor, the Antarctic krill plays an important role in the carbon cycle and in fertilising the ocean. The species is food for birds, mammals and fish; moreover, it is fished and processed into a variety of products for human and animal consumption, and it is often used as bait for sport fishermen. Given the widespread impact of these small swimming crustaceans, the EU-funded ParaKrill project is evaluating the unusual diversity and high prevalence of parasitic infections in krill, aiming for insight that will inform the sustainable management of this important Antarctic species.


Antarctic krill, Euphausia superba, play essential roles in the Southern Ocean. These small pelagic crustaceans are prey for most of the region’s birds, mammals, and fish, as well as influencing the carbon cycle through export to the deep sea. Additionally, krill are the target of a currently expanding commercial fishery. Sustainably managing Antarctic krill requires an understanding of the factors influencing their growth, reproduction and mortality. One such factor which remains very poorly known is the role of parasites. My recent research using new molecular tools has shown a much higher than expected diversity and prevalence of parasite infections in krill. I observed DNA sequences of a broad variety of parasites (fungi, peronosporomycetes, apicomplexa, nematodes, and ciliates) within the guts of krill, with over 10% of krill individuals containing parasite DNA. This MSCA action will build on those preliminary results – applying a combination of novel molecular approaches, traditional incubation experiments, and mathematical modelling to address three key questions: 1) What eukaryotic parasites and symbionts are found in E. superba? 2) How are parasites distributed in geographic and environmental space? and 3) What impact do parasites have on E. superba secondary production? To address these broad questions this project brings together research expertise from Australia (Australian Antarctic Division), Europe (British Antarctic Survey and the University of Stirling), and the Americas (National Polytechnic Institute of Mexico), as well as establishing new intersectoral collaborations with fisheries (Association of Responsible Krill Harvesting Companies) and tourism (Hurtigruten). The results of this research will be communicated to national and international krill fisheries management organizations – allowing the role of parasites to be taken into account to improve the sustainability of management for this key species.



Net EU contribution
€ 277 940,16
SN2 1FL Swindon
United Kingdom

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South West (England) Gloucestershire, Wiltshire and Bristol/Bath area Swindon
Activity type
Research Organisations
Total cost
€ 277 940,16

Partners (1)