Research projects

Parasite culture techniques

Hutson's team plan to develop and optimise new methodologies and technologies for the cultivation of economically and environmentally important parasite models. Parasite cultures are important for the continued supply of viable organisms for understanding disease ecology and developing appropriate management methods. Specifically, we will develop and optimise continuous culture methods for four major problematic parasite species that infest tropical farmed fish and ornamental corals including: white spot, Cryptocaryon irritans, which infects farmed marine barramundi; the branchiuran, Argulus sp., which infects tilapia; the leech, Zeylanicobdella arugamensis which infects wild and farmed grouper; and the flatworm, Amakusaplana acroporae which infects wild and captive corals. This project is supported by a JCU Development Grant and will cement a new collaboration with Dr David Bourne at JCU as well as national and international collaboration with Associate Investigators Dr Lexa Grutter, University of Queensland, and Professor Geoff Boxshall, the Natural History Museum, London.

Strategic approaches to prioritising and managing disease risks posed by the importation of ornamental fish

Project funding: Fisheries Research Development Corporation, Aquatic Animal Health Subprogram 2014 to 2016

Approximately 18 million ornamental fish are imported annually under a policy based on an Import Risk Assessment. There is an extreme paucity of information available on parasites of imported fish and their potential risk to marine ecosystems is virtually unexplored. There is a need to determine whether high risk aquatic pathogens that are nationally and internationally reportable and associated with ornamental fish are entering Australia despite the import conditions. This is a collaborative project with the Faculty of Veterinary Science, University of Sydney.

Tropical cleaner fish and shrimp as controls of ectoparasites in aquaculture

Project Funding: Centre for Sustainable Tropical Fisheries and Aquaculture

Cleaner fish provide a realistic alternative to chemical use to reduce ectoparasite infections on cultured fishes. In Norway and Scotland, temperate cleaner wrasses have been successfully used to manage sea lice infecting Atlantic salmon grown in tanks and sea cages. Tropical cleaner fish wrasse and gobies have also been used successfully for Neobenedenia infecting tilapia in the Mediterranean. We are examining the feasibility of using tropical cleaner shrimp to manage parasite infections in Australian cultured fishes with some exciting results! To read our published paper click here.

Integrated management of parasite infections in tropical aquaculture

Project funding: Smart State Grant including contributions from the Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry, Queensland; James Cook University; King Reef Pty Ltd and Coral Seas Farms 2012 to 2015

This project will establish integrated management strategies for major parasitic disease problems in tropical aquaculture. Disease problems constitute the largest single cause of economic loss in aquaculture and can have devastating impacts on wild ecosystems and fishery resources. This research will revolutionise management of serious parasitic disease using an innovative experimental approach. Outcomes include: integrated long-term strategies to manage parasites; lower production costs; ability for new finfish industries to thrive in Queensland.

Consultancies and Contract Research

Research Contract with Virbac Vietnam

Contract: Efficacy of products against parasites infections inaquaculture.
Virbac is dedicated exclusively to animal health. The company ranks as the 7th largest animal health company worldwide. Its wide range of vaccines and medicines are used in the prevention and treatment of the main pathologies for companion and food-producing animals. Kate Hutson is engaged with contract research to test the efficacy of Virbac Vietnam's aquatic animal health products.

Consultancy for DigsFish Services Pty Ltd

Contract: Darwin Harbour is currently being dredged to create a deep channel for LNG carrier ships to load gas at the multi-billion Inpex facility being constructed at Blaydin Point. As part of this development, Kate Hutson has been subcontracted by DigsFish Services to conduct fish and crab health surveys prior, during and post dredging. For more information on the project, click here.

Consultancy for National Aquaculture Group Pty Ltd, Saudi Arabia

Contract: Heath status and biosecurity assessment for barramundi (Lates calcarifer) imports from Australia to Saudi Arabia. As part of this consultancy, Kate Hutson was to conduct fish health analyses and risk assessment prior to exportation of fish from Australia.

Completed Research Projects

Enhancing adaptive capacity for farming barramundi

Project Funding: National Climate Change Adaption Research Facility/Fisheries Research and Development Corporation 2011-2013

Climate change – higher water temperatures and extreme salinity fluctuations – is expected to exacerbate the frequency and intensity of parasite epizootics in aquaculture by enabling parasites to complete their life-cycles faster. Farms may suffer escalating production costs because parasites can spread easily and cost effective, efficient management methods may not be available. Biological information for many parasites of barramundi (Lates calcarifer) are unknown (e.g. species determination, epidemiology, fecundity, time to reach sexual maturity, adult longevity and effect of water temperature and salinity). This project provided comprehensive data on parasite life-cycle parameters for a breadth of environmental conditions. Integrated parasite management strategies will be identified to aid the adaptive capacity of industry to climate-induced parasite outbreaks in the tropics. To read our published paper click here.

Blood fluke infections of fishes

Project Funding: Jame Cook University Early Career Researcher Rising Stars Program 2012

Blood flukes of fishes (Aporocotylidae, Trematoda) infect some of the most commercially-valued marine and freshwater fishes in the world. They can be highly pathogenic to their intermediate and definitive hosts. Asexual stages castrate their intermediate host and eggs laid by adult parasites can cause asphyxiation and mass mortality in cultured fish. Unlike most other trematode families which are transmitted through trophic interactions, blood flukes have an infective free-swimming stage that can directly infect their fish host through penetration. As part of the JCU ECR Rising Stars project, we will develop diagnostic tools for detection of blood fluke in aquaculture fishes. In addition, recent collections of blood flukes from Australian marine fishes indicate that there is a diversity of undescribed species. As an extension of the ABRS funded project (below) we continue to characterise blood fluke of wild and farmed finfish using morphological and molecular methods.

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Parasites of wild and farmed fishes

Project Funding: Australian Biological Resources Study and Fisheries Research and Development Corporation 2007-2010

Parasites have the potential to limit the growth of Australian fishing industries, especially aquaculture, through mortality, morbidity and reduced marketability. A majority of the parasites of recreational, commercial and farmed Australian finfish has not been collected, studied or described. We have surveyed 12 important Australian finfish species and documented their parasite assemblages, placing emphasis on parasitic crustaceans (e.g. sea-lice) and helminths (e.g. flukes). More than 120 parasite species were identified. The final report for this project (see Publications) is available through the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation.

Integrated algal-fish culture: a natural control against ectoparasites

Project Funding: James Cook University, Faculty of Sciences and Engineering Grant 2011

Natural chemicals produced by marine algae could act as control against ectoparasite infections of fishes. The aim of this research was to determine the effects of red, green and brown seaweed extract as natural controls against ectoparasite infections of barramundi. This study will set the platform for future research on alternative technologies for the management and control of ectoparasites in aquaculture, and the integration of macroalgae into intensive aquaculture for parasite control. This research has been published online in the International Journal for Parasitology.