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Aquatic macrophytes and macroinvertebrate predators affect densities of snail hosts and local production of schistosome cercariae that cause human schistosomiasis.

Abstract

Schistosomiasis is responsible for the second highest burden of disease among neglected tropical diseases globally, with over 90 percent of cases occurring in African regions where drugs to treat the disease are only sporadically available. Additionally, human re-infection after treatment can be a problem where there are high numbers of infected snails in the environment. Recent experiments indicate that aquatic factors, including plants, nutrients, or predators, can influence snail abundance and parasite production within infected snails, both components of human risk. This study investigated how snail host abundance and release of cercariae (the free swimming stage infective to humans) varies at water access sites in an endemic region in Senegal, a setting where human schistosomiasis prevalence is among the highest globally.

We collected snail intermediate hosts at 15 random points stratified by three habitat types at 36 water access sites, and counted cercarial production by each snail after transfer to the laboratory on the same day. We found that aquatic vegetation was positively associated with per-capita cercarial release by snails, probably because macrophytes harbor periphyton resources that snails feed upon, and well-fed snails tend to produce more parasites. In contrast, the abundance of aquatic macroinvertebrate snail predators was negatively associated with per-capita cercarial release by snails, probably because of several potential sublethal effects on snails or snail infection, despite a positive association between snail predators and total snail numbers at a site, possibly due to shared habitat usage or prey tracking by the predators. Thus, complex bottom-up and top-down ecological effects in this region plausibly influence the snail shedding rate and thus, total local density of schistosome cercariae.

Our study suggests that aquatic macrophytes and snail predators can influence per-capita cercarial production and total abundance of snails. Thus, snail control efforts might benefit by targeting specific snail habitats where parasite production is greatest. In conclusion, a better understanding of top-down and bottom-up ecological factors that regulate densities of cercarial release by snails, rather than solely snail densities or snail infection prevalence, might facilitate improved schistosomiasis control.

MIDAS Network Members

Jason Rohr

Ludmilla F., Stephen J., and Robert T. Galla College Professor of Biological Sciences
Department of Biological Sciences

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