High intensity infections of Echinostoma trivolvis metacercariae decrease survival and growth of young amphibian larvae. However, in nature, parasites are highly aggregated, which results in a large proportion of the amphibian population being only moderately infected. Survival and growth responses at these more-common, low-infection levels remain poorly studied. Thus, we investigated the effects of moderate Echinostoma trivolvis metacercariae infection (following exposure to 0, 10, 30, or 90 cercariae) on the growth and development of pickerel frog (Rana palustris) tadpoles. We measured metabolism to determine whether increased energy expenditure is a potential physiological mechanism underlying previously documented reduced growth. Furthermore, we quantified tadpole intestine size, which can exhibit plasticity in response to changing metabolic demands, and we characterized metacercariae distribution in tadpole kidneys. Metacercariae encysted in the pronephros significantly more than in the mesonephros, but tended to occur equally in right and left kidneys. Two mo post-infection (PI), there were no changes in tadpole survival, development, intestine size, or growth related to metacercariae infection. Similarly, metacercariae did not significantly increase metabolic rates during encystment or at 1 mo PI. Our study demonstrated that modest E. trivolvis infections, representative of a large proportion of the host population, had no detectable effects on fitness-related traits in laboratory isolation from other ecological variables.
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