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Title: The ecology of digenean parasites infecting Hydrobia ulvae (Pennant, 1777), and their functional importance within the interidal community
Author: Ferguson, MacNeill A. D.
Awarding Body: University of Aberdeen
Current Institution: University of Aberdeen
Date of Award: 2010
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Aim: This series of studies assessed the influence that digenean parasites exert on a host population beyond the initial cost of infection. It aimed to address the discrepancy between the exclusion of parasites from most ecological studies, and their functional importance within the wider free-living community. It also assessed methodologies that utilise the diversity of the parasite community as well as the phenotypic effects of parasitism, as potential tools for ecology and palaeoecology. Results: From 2004-2007, in excess of 53,000 snails were dissected during the course of these studies. Making it one of the most detailed parasitological studies undertaken on a single host parasite interaction in this field. Community studies - Parasite diversity was found to be influenced by local scale abiotic, as well as large scale environmental patterns. Parasite diversity correlates with the distribution of definitive avian hosts, which in turn correlates with intertidal benthic communities. These correlations provide an effective methodology for monitoring ecosystem health. Behavioural studies - A critical assessment of parasite mediated behavioural change revealed the indirect cost of gigantism in the host population to be a side effect, and that differences in behaviours were often a result of size rather than infection. Growth/Morphometric studies - Gigantism was revealed as both infection and environment driven. Finally, morphometric analysis revealed conchiometric markers that provide tools for reconstructing past environments and infection prevalence. Main conclusions: The functional importance of digenean parasitism within the intermediate host snail Hydrobia ulvae, extends far beyond the individual. Digeneans directly and indirectly manipulate the host population, in turn affecting wider community structure. Environmental, abiotic and biotic factors can leave observable imprints on the infected and uninfected host population. Such markers can provide tools and methodologies for furthering our understanding of both extinct and extant host-parasite populations.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: BBSRC
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Ecosystem health ; Estuarine ecology ; Digenea ; Hydrobia