Snail odour-clouds: spreading and contribution to the transmission success of Trichobilharzia ocellata (Trematoda, Digenea) miracidia


Chemical communication among freshwater organisms is an adaptation to improve their coexistence. Here,we focus on the chemical cues secreted by the freshwater gastropod Lymnaea stagnalis, which are known to stimulate behavioural responses of Trichobilharzia ocellata (Plathelminthes, Digenea, Trematoda) miracidia. Such responses are commonly claimed to influence transmission positively, but in response to chemical cues miracidia randomly change their swimming direction. This kind of response does not necessarily increase transmission, because miracidia may be trapped at the periphery of very large snail odour-clouds, which may prevent them from approaching the snail. On the other hand, the odour clouds may be too small to improve host-localisation. To shed light on these scenarios, the spreading of molecules released around L. stagnalis (active space) was visualised by recording host-finding responses of T. ocellata miracidia when they approached snails. Behavioural responses of miracidia indicated the spreading of compounds forming an attractive active space only around the host-snail L. stagnalis, but not around sympatric non-host-snail species. The active space increased approximately linearly with the time the snail rested at the same spot and within 5 min it reached a volume of more than 30 times that of the snail. We also demonstrated in a large-scale experiment, that the active space of L. stagnalis significantly increases the transmission success of T. ocellata miracidia. Additionally, the microhabitat selection of T. ocellata miracidia was studied, demonstrating that peripheral locations near the water surface were preferred, which are also preferred sites of L. stagnalis. Improved chemoperception and microhabitat selection may have been a consequence of coevolution with snails and benefited miracidia, which became efficient transmissive stages.

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We are indebted to 2 unknown reviewers for their excellent revision, which significantly contributed to improve the manuscript. We thank Christina Loy for technical assistance in development and improvement of the miracidia sampling technique. We also thank Susanne Steineke for pioneer work on larval sampling procedures. This work was financed by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft and the work complies with the current law of Germany.

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Correspondence to Jan Hertel.

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Communicated by Thomas Hoffmeister

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Hertel, J., Holweg, A., Haberl, B. et al. Snail odour-clouds: spreading and contribution to the transmission success of Trichobilharzia ocellata (Trematoda, Digenea) miracidia. Oecologia 147, 173–180 (2006) doi:10.1007/s00442-005-0239-5

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  • Behavioural ecology
  • Chemical ecology
  • Host-finding
  • Lymnaea
  • Microhabitat selection