ABSTRACT

Eutrophication of aquatic habitats has become a global problem, with implications for host–parasite dynamics. Blooms of certain cyanobacteria are associated with cyanotoxins, particularly microcystins such as microcystin-LR (MC-LR). These potent toxins have been shown to adversely affect freshwater fauna and can increase host susceptibility to parasite infection. However, to understand how cyanotoxins influence infection outcomes in nature, it is necessary to investigate whether free-living parasite infectious stages, such as that of trematode cercariae, are also affected given their demonstrated sensitivity to various contaminants. Here we examined the effects of environmentally relevant levels of MC-LR representing relatively high (82 μg/L) and low (11 μg/L) concentrations on the activity and survival of four different types of cercariae (Echinostoma sp., Cephalogonimus sp., Alaria sp., and an unidentified strigeid type) over 24 hr. Exposure to MC-LR did not affect the activity of any cercarial type, nor was survival reduced. In fact, the strigeid-type cercariae had significantly increased longevity if exposed to either MC-LR solution, with the greatest longevity in the highest concentration. Our results indicate that MC-LR may have opposing effects on aquatic parasites and their hosts, potentially increasing host susceptibility but having a neutral or positive effect on motile infectious stages such as cercariae. Cyanobacterial blooms could thus enhance trematode transmission; however, the effects of other cyanotoxins must be studied, as well as a broader range of host and parasite species.

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