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Proc Biol Sci. 2006 Jun 7;273(1592):1323-8.

Parasites alter host phenotype and may create a new ecological niche for snail hosts.

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Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Tohoku Graduate School of Life Sciences, Aobayama, Sendai 980-8578, Japan.


By modifying the behaviour and morphology of hosts, parasites may strongly impact host individuals, populations and communities. We examined the effects of a common trematode parasite on its snail host, Batillaria cumingi (Batillariidae). This widespread snail is usually the most abundant invertebrate in salt marshes and mudflats of the northeastern coast of Asia. More than half (52.6%, n=1360) of the snails in our study were infected. We found that snails living in the lower intertidal zone were markedly larger and exhibited different shell morphology than those in the upper intertidal zone. The large morphotypes in the lower tidal zone were all infected by the trematode, Cercaria batillariae (Heterophyidae). We used a transplant experiment, a mark-and-recapture experiment and stable carbon isotope ratios to reveal that snails infected by the trematode move to the lower intertidal zone, resume growth after maturation and consume different resources. By simultaneously changing the morphology and behaviour of individual hosts, this parasite alters the demographics and potentially modifies resource use of the snail population. Since trematodes are common and often abundant in marine and freshwater habitats throughout the world, their effects potentially alter food webs in many systems.

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