Several studies have suggested that the fitness of a parasite can be directly impacted by the quality of its host. In such cases, selective pressures could act to funnel parasites towards the highest-quality hosts in a population. The results of this study demonstrate that snail host quality is strongly correlated with spatial patterning in trematode infections and that habitat type is the underlying driver for both of these variables. Two trematodes (Himasthla quissetensis and Zoogonus rubellus) with very different life cycles assume the same spatial infection pattern in populations of the first intermediate host (Ilyanassa obsoleta) in coastal marsh habitats. Infected snails are disproportionately recovered from intertidal panne habitats, which offer more hospitable environs for snails than do adjacent habitats (intertidal creeks, coastal flats, and subtidal creeks), in terms of protection from turbulence and wave action, as well as the availability of food stuffs. Snails in intertidal panne habitats are of higher quality when assessed in terms of average size-specific mass, growth rate, and fecundity. In mark–recapture experiments, snails frequently dispersed into intertidal pannes but were never observed leaving them. In addition, field experiments demonstrate that snails confined to intertidal panne habitats are disproportionately infected by both trematode species, relative to conspecifics confined to adjacent habitats. Laboratory experiments show that infected snails suffer significant energetic losses and consume more than uninfected conspecifics, suggesting that infected snails in intertidal pannes may survive better than in adjacent habitats. We speculate that 1 possible mechanism for the observed patterns is that the life cycles of both trematode species allows them to contact the highest-quality snails in this marsh ecosystem.
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Vol. 98 • No. 2