Larval trematodes frequently castrate their snail intermediate hosts. When castrated, the snails do not contribute offspring to the population, yet they persist and compete with the uninfected individuals for the available food resources. Parasitic castration should reduce the population growth rate λ, but the magnitude of this decrease is unknown. The present study attempted to quantify the cost of parasitic castration at the level of the population by mathematically modeling the population of the planorbid snail Helisoma anceps in Charlie's Pond, North Carolina. Analysis of the model identified the life-history trait that most affects λ, and the degree to which parasitic castration can lower λ. A period matrix product model was constructed with estimates of fecundity, survival, growth rates, and infection probabilities calculated in a previous study. Elasticity analysis was performed by increasing the values of the life-history traits by 10% and recording the percentage change in λ. Parasitic castration resulted in a 40% decrease in λ of H. anceps. Analysis of the model suggests that decreasing the size at maturity was more effective at reducing the cost of castration than increasing survival or growth rates of the snails. The current matrix model was the first to mathematically describe a snail population, and the predictions of the model are in agreement with published research.
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