Temporal variation of Meiogymnophallus minutus infections in the first and second intermediate host.
In order to study seasonal patterns of Meiogymnophallus minutus infections in its intermediate hosts, bivalve samples were collected monthly between April 2008 and March 2009 from a high intertidal flat at Courtmacsherry Bay, Ireland. Infection rates in the first intermediate host Scrobicularia plana did not fluctuate significantly with season. Completely developed M. minutus cercariae appeared in daughter sporocysts from June and prevailed from July to October, indicating that transmission of M. minutus from its first to its second intermediate host is confined to this period of the year. All analysed individuals of the second intermediate host Cerastoderma edule were found to be infected with metacercariae. Infection levels significantly increased in September, suggesting recent cercarial invasions. Throughout the year, the majority of metacercariae were hyperinfected by the pathogenic microsporidian Unikaryon legeri. Spreading of hyperinfections was confined to spring and summer. Newly settled metacercariae were not affected by hyperparasitism and presumably retained their infectivity for half a year. Our findings suggest that the spreading of hyperinfections is correlated with higher water temperatures and that the entire metacercarial population has to rebuild every year as a consequence of hyperparasite-induced mortality.