QPX (Quahog Parasite Unknown) a protistan pathogen of northern quahogs (=hard clams), Mercenaria mercenaria, has caused disease outbreaks in maritime Canada, and in Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, and Virginia, USA. Although epizootics have occurred in wild hard clam populations, the parasite has most seriously affected cultured hard clams, suggesting that aquaculture practices may promote or predispose clams to the disease. In this investigation the influence of clam genetic origin and the geographic location at where they are grown on QPX disease susceptibility was examined in a common garden experiment. Aquaculture stocks were acquired from hatcheries in Massachusetts, New Jersey, Virginia, South Carolina, and Florida and spawned at a single hatchery in Virginia. All stocks were originally, although not exclusively, derived from wild hard clam populations from each state. The seed clams were deployed at two sites, New Jersey and Virginia, and evaluated during the subsequent 2.5 y for growth, survival, and QPX disease. At both sites, South Carolina- and Florida-derived clam stocks exhibited significantly higher QPX prevalence and lower survival than New Jersey and Massachusetts clam stocks. Levels in the Virginia stock were intermediate. In Virginia, mortality at the termination of the experiment was 78%, 52%, 36%, 33%, and 20% in the Florida, South Carolina, Virginia, Massachusetts, and New Jersey hard clam stocks, respectively. Mortality was significantly correlated with QPX prevalence. Maximum QPX prevalence in the South Carolina and Florida stocks ranged from 19% to 21% and 27% to 29%, respectively, whereas in the Virginia, New Jersey, and Massachusetts stocks prevalence was 10% or less. Similar trends were observed in New Jersey where mortality at the termination of the experiment was estimated to be 53%, 40%, 20%, 6%, and 4% in the Florida, South Carolina, Virginia, Massachusetts, and New Jersey clam stocks, respectively. QPX prevalence peaked at 18% in the Florida stock, 38% in the South Carolina, 18% in the Virginia, and 5% in the New Jersey and Massachusetts stocks. These results suggest that host genotype is an important determinant in susceptibility to QPX disease. As such, hard clam culturist should consider the genetic origin of clam seed stocks an important component of their QPX disease avoidance/management strategies.
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Vol. 26 • No. 1