Both the prevalence and intensity of patent infection by avian schistosomes (Trichobilharzia ocellata) increase with increasing size of lymnaeid snails (Stagnicola elrodi) collected in Flathead Lake, Montana. Because the size and age of a snail are positively correlated, snails of different sizes may have experienced differential duration of exposure to and development of infection. Another possibility is that infection itself induces snail gigantism. Each of these possibilities could lead to increased prevalence and intensity of infection among the oldest–largest snails. To decouple size variation from many correlated effects of age and to test for parasite-induced gigantism, laboratory experiments standardized snail size–age-at-infection, exposure history, inoculating dose, and duration of infection. The positive relationship between size and prevalence was eliminated in the laboratory, but the relationship between size and infection intensity remained. Laboratory results thus suggest that infection intensity is related to snail size per se, whereas prevalence in the field is related to snail size only through the correlation between size and age. In addition, under these experimental conditions, infected snails were no larger than uninfected snails, so the patterns observed in the field might not be attributable to gigantism.

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