Background: Coral reefs are areas of maximum biodiversity, but the parasites of coral reef fishes, and especially their species richness, are not well known. Over an 8-year period, parasites were collected from 24 species of Lutjanidae, Nemipteridae and Caesionidae off New Caledonia, South Pacific. Results: Host-parasite and parasite-host lists are provided, with a total of 207 host-parasite combinations and 58 parasite species identified at the species level, with 27 new host records. Results are presented for isopods, copepods, monogeneans, digeneans, cestodes and nematodes. When results are restricted to well-sampled reef fish species (sample size > 30), the number of host-parasite combinations is 20–25 per fish species, and the number of parasites identified at the species level is 9–13 per fish species. Lutjanids include reef-associated fish and deeper sea fish from the outer slopes of the coral reef: fish from both milieus were compared. Surprisingly, parasite biodiversity was higher in deeper sea fish than in reef fish (host-parasite combinations: 12.50 vs 10.13, number of species per fish 3.75 vs 3.00); however, we identified four biases which diminish the validity of this comparison. Finally, these results and previously published results allow us to propose a generalization of parasite biodiversity for four major families of reef-associated fishes (Lutjanidae, Nemipteridae, Serranidae and Lethrinidae): well-sampled fish have a mean of 20 host-parasite combinations per fish species, and the number of parasites identified at the species level is 10 per fish species. Conclusions: Since all precautions have been taken to minimize taxon numbers, it is safe to affirm than the number of fish parasites is at least ten times the number of fish species in coral reefs, for species of similar size or larger than the species in the four families studied; this is a major improvement to our estimate of biodiversity in coral reefs. Our results suggest that extinction of a coral reef fish species would eventually result in the coextinction of at least ten species of parasites.Jean-Lou Justine, Ian Beveridge, Geoffrey A Boxshall, Rodney A Bray, Terrence L Miller, František Moravec, Jean-Paul Trilles and Ian D Whittingto
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