Leeches in the extreme: morphological, physiological, and behavioral adaptations to inhospitable habitats.
With more than 700 described species, leeches include morphological, physiological, and behavioral diversity and occur in terrestrial and aquatic habitats, including freshwater, estuarine, and marine ecosystems. Leeches inhabit a number of extreme environments, including extremes in temperature, moisture, salinity, pressure, light, and pollution. In some cases, leeches in extreme environments have specialized morphological, physiological, or behavioral adaptations to survive these conditions, yet unique adaptations are not apparent in some species. Leeches that inhabit inhospitable habitats occur in more than one branch or family of leech phylogeny suggesting that there have been independent invasions of environments with extreme conditions. Herein, we review examples of leeches that live in extreme conditions and the exceptional biology that has contributed to leeches being the most extreme annelids.