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Parasites, in particular trematodes, are unseen but ubiquitous components of marine intertidal ecosystems. Although parasites are known to affect population dynamics and food web structure, their potential function as an unrecognized path of energy flow in these ecosystems is yet to be quantified. We use published data on rates at which trematodes produce free-swimming infective larvae (cercariae) that are released from their gastropod intermediate hosts to investigate patterns in cercarial output as a function of different variables, and to calculate the annual production of cercariae in different marine benthic systems. Across 18 trematode species, cercarial output (no. cercariae shed snail–1 d–1) ranged over 4 orders of magnitude and was positively correlated with snail host species size. While cercarial output did not correlate with latitude, it did correlate negatively with the size of cercariae, and was influenced by the type of downstream host sought by cercariae, being highest when this host was a vertebrate. Our estimates of annual cercarial production (kJ m–2 yr–1), which take into account the density of infected snails in the habitat, were within the range of production values reported for free-living invertebrates inhabiting benthic ecosystems. These estimates would be much higher if they included all trematode species in an ecosystem, and not just single-species values. Overall, results suggest that trematode cercariae represent potentially important paths of energy flow in benthic systems as well as a potentially important food supply to benthic organisms.


© Inter-Research 2008

Publication Title

Marine Ecology Progress Series



Included in

Biology Commons



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