Evolutionary Ecology

, Volume 26, Issue 6, pp 1497–1512 | Cite as

Disentangling phylogenetic constraints from selective forces in the evolution of trematode transmission stages

  • Anson V. Koehler
  • Brittni Brown
  • Robert PoulinEmail author
  • David W. Thieltges
  • Brian L. Fredensborg
Original Paper


The transmission stages of parasites are key determinants of parasite fitness, but they also incur huge mortality. Yet the selective forces shaping the sizes of transmission stages remain poorly understood. We ran a comparative analysis of interspecific variation in the size of transmission stages among 404 species of parasitic trematodes. There are two transmission steps requiring infective stages in the life cycle of trematodes: transmission from the definitive to the first intermediate (snail) host is achieved by eggs and/or the miracidia hatched from those eggs, and transmission from the first to the second intermediate host is achieved by free-swimming cercariae. The sizes of these stages are under strong phylogenetic constraints. Our results show that taxonomy explains >50% of the unaccounted variance in linear mixed models, with most of the variance occurring at the superfamily level. The models also demonstrated that mollusc size is positively associated with egg volume, miracidial volume and cercarial body volume, but not with the relative size of the cercarial tail. In species where they encyst on substrates, cercariae have significantly larger bodies than in species penetrating chordates, although the relative size of the cercarial tail of species using chordates as second intermediate hosts was larger than in other trematode species. Habitat also matters, with larger cercarial tails seen in freshwater trematodes than in marine ones, and larger miracidial volumes in freshwater species than in marine ones. Finally, the latitude (proxy for local temperature) at which the trematode species were collected had no effect on the sizes of transmission stages. We propose that resource availability within the snail host, the probability of contacting a host, and the density and viscosity of the water medium combine to select for different transmission stage sizes.


Body size Cercariae Latitude Habitat type Host type Tail size 



We thank Isabel Blasco-Costa, Haseeb Randhawa and Shinichi Nakagawa for statistical advice, and Matthew Terry for help with references.

Supplementary material

10682_2012_9558_MOESM1_ESM.xlsx (227 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (XLSX 227 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Anson V. Koehler
    • 1
  • Brittni Brown
    • 2
  • Robert Poulin
    • 1
    Email author
  • David W. Thieltges
    • 3
  • Brian L. Fredensborg
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of ZoologyUniversity of OtagoDunedinNew Zealand
  2. 2.Department of BiologyThe University of Texas–Pan AmericanEdinburgUSA
  3. 3.Marine Ecology DepartmentRoyal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research (NIOZ)Den BurgThe Netherlands

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