The composition and diversity of metazoan parasite communities in naturally depauperate ecosystems are rarely studied. This study describes the composition of helminth endoparasite communities infecting fish that are part of naturally acidic stream ecosystems in the coastal-plains region of the State of New Jersey (USA) known as the Pinelands, and compares the diversity of parasites between six streams that differ in anthropogenic disturbance. A total of 514 fish were examined representing 6 species native but restricted to the Pinelands region, 5 species native and widespread throughout the region and State, and 6 species introduced to the Pinelands and State. Fish (prevalence: 78%) were infected with 18 helminth endoparasite species. In most streams, prevalence of infection, mean abundance, and total number of individuals for the 5 most common parasites were higher in pirate perch, a native fish species. The diversity of helminth endoparasite communities measured as species richness and Shannon index was higher in degraded streams, and especially in native or introduced fish at these sites. Parasite diversity was positively correlated with anthropogenic disturbance, which was measured by water pH, water conductance, and the proportion of agricultural and developed land surrounding streams. Helminth community composition included parasites intimately tied to trophic interactions in food webs, and disturbance to these ecosystems results in changes to these communities. Understanding structure and function of animal communities from these naturally depauperate ecosystems is important before continued anthropogenic changes result in the extirpation or extinction of their unique fauna.
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