ABSTRACT

Parasites can affect animal populations and communities in aquatic ecosystems. However, greater understanding is needed for the distributions and drivers of parasite infection levels in many areas. This study focuses on parasite prevalence (percent infected hosts) of an important class of parasites, trematodes, in 2 species of snail first intermediate hosts (Planorbella trivolvis and Physa sp.) in the Illinois River watershed, which has been impacted by human development. We hypothesized that trematode prevalence depends on local (e.g., water chemistry) and landscape (e.g., proximity to the Illinois River and land cover) factors. To test our hypotheses, we collected at least 20 individuals of 1 or both species of snails from 28 ponds within the watershed, and we made water-quality measurements and recorded habitat characteristics at each site. We then screened the snails for infections in the laboratory and identified the trematode cercariae that emerged based on morphological and molecular techniques. We found 5 cercariae morphotypes, including important parasites of wildlife, such as Echinostoma sp. and Ribeiroia ondatrae. Our results indicate that proximity to the Illinois River and open water or wetlands was positively associated with trematode prevalence in both snail species, whereas water chemistry (higher pH, lower calcium concentration, and lower specific conductance) was associated with increased prevalence, but only in Physa. Our findings offer increased understanding of potential environmental drivers underlying trematode distributions, with implications for wildlife health.

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