Population Ecology


, Volume 150, Issue 4, pp 569-581

First online:

Spatial heterogeneity in parasite infections at different spatial scales in an intertidal bivalve

  • David W. ThieltgesAffiliated withAlfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research, Wadden Sea Station Sylt Email author 
  • , Karsten ReiseAffiliated withAlfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research, Wadden Sea Station Sylt

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Spatial heterogeneities in the abundance of free-living organisms as well as in infection levels of their parasites are a common phenomenon, but knowledge on parasitism in invertebrate intermediate hosts in this respect is scarce. We investigated the spatial pattern of four dominant trematode species which utilize a common intertidal bivalve, the cockle Cerastoderma edule, as second intermediate host in their life cycles. Sampling of cockles from the same cohort at 15 sites in the northern Wadden Sea (North Sea) over a distance of 50 km revealed a conspicuous spatial heterogeneity in infection levels in all four species over the total sample as well as among and within sampling sites. Whereas multiple regression analyses indicated the density of first intermediate upstream hosts to be the strongest determinant of infection levels in cockles, the situation within sites was more complex with no single strong predictor variable. However, host size was positively and host density negatively correlated with infection levels and there was an indication of differential susceptibility of cockle hosts. Small-scale differences in physical properties of the habitat in the form of residual water at low tide resulted in increased infection levels of cockles which we experimentally transferred into pools. A complex interplay of these factors may be responsible for within-site heterogeneities. At larger spatial scales, these factors may be overridden by the strong effect of upstream hosts. In contrast to first intermediate trematode hosts, there was no indication for inter-specific interactions. In other terms, the recruitment of trematodes in second intermediate hosts seems to be largely controlled by pre-settlement processes both among and within host populations.


Trematodes Bivalves Metacercariae Spatial structure Aggregation