Digenetic trematodes usually show a high degree of specificity for their molluscan intermediate hosts. A panel of 4 digenean species (Echinostoma paraensei, E. trivolvis, Schistosoma mansoni, and Schistosomatium douthitti) and 5 snail species (Biomphalaria glabrata, Helisoma trivolvis, Lymnaea stagnalis, Stagnicola elodes, and Helix aspersa representing 3 gastropod families) was used to assess the relative contributions of miracidial behavior, host plasma osmolality, and host plasma factors in dictating specificity. Additional experiments were undertaken with a fifth digenean, Echinoparyphium sp. Expected patterns of compatibility were first confirmed; each parasite species produced patent infections in its known snail host, but not in the other snail species. One exception was S. douthitti, which unexpectedly did not infect L. stagnalis. As judged by direct observation and by noting their disappearance after exposure to snails, miracidia were generally less likely to attach to or penetrate incompatible than compatible hosts. However, over half of the miracidia of each parasite species attached to or attempted penetration of both compatible and incompatible hosts, suggesting that under the experimental conditions used, miracidial host location and attachment behaviors were not of overriding importance in dictating observed patterns of specificity. For each digenean species, the percentage of larvae that became immobile, rounded, showed tegumental damage, or died over a 6-hr interval in plasma of the various snails was assessed. In no case was plasma from a compatible host harmful to sporocysts or rediae. In contrast, in 8 of 16 (50 %) incompatible combinations, snail plasma had a significant negative effect on sporocyst condition. In 4 of 12 (33%) incompatible combinations, plasma had a significant negative effect on rediae. In 9 of 10 combinations tested, lymnaeid plasma was toxic for the parasites of planorbid snails and in 2 of 4 combinations, planorbid plasma was toxic for the parasites of lymnaeid snails. Toxicity was not attributable to differences in plasma osmolality between snail species. The ability of plasma from incompatible snails to affect viability of both sporocysts and rediae was surprisingly strong, suggesting that humoral factors play a greater role in dictating patterns of digenean–snail specificity than previously appreciated.
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