The Effects of Climate Change on Fish Immunity
Climate change presents global challenges, but it is of gravest concern for Arctic nations like Canada, where the impact will be greater. Higher temperatures are associated with more diseases caused by pathogens and parasites. In that context, what effect will climbing temperatures have on Canada’s cold-water fish species? That’s what Dr. Brian Dixon, Canada Research Chair in Fish and Environmental Immunology, is trying to find out.
Dixon is investigating the effects of temperature on the health of fish. Higher temperatures stress fish out, and stress has negative impacts on the function of their immune systems—a situation that can create problems for both farmed and wild fish. Dixon and his research team are examining the processes fish use to recognize diseases and initiate immune responses to them. Knowing how this works could help us develop vaccines for use in aquaculture.
In addition, Dixon and his team are examining how low temperatures, which also reduce immunity, cause tumours in walleye. The tumours are caused by a virus that may be unleashed when low temperatures turn off walleyes’ immune systems.
Finally, recent research has shown that male and female fish have different immune responses. This difference has major implications for aquaculture facilities that use all-female production stocks. Dixon is studying whether these differences occur only in mature fish or throughout the life cycle.
Dixon’s research will provide the answers we need to develop tools, policies and management techniques that are critical for ensuring the survival of Canada’s cold-water fish species and the sustainability of our aquaculture industry for generations to come.