Divergent effects of invasive macrophytes on population dynamics of a snail intermediate host of Schistosoma mansoni.
Vectors and intermediate hosts of globally impactful human parasites are sensitive to changes in the ecological communities in which they are embedded. Sites of endemic transmission of human schistosome can also be invaded by nonnative species, especially aquatic plants (macrophytes). We tested the effects on macrophyte invasions on experiment snail and schistosome populations created in 100 L mesocosm tanks. We established macrophyte-free mesocosms and those containing one of four widespread macrophyte species that are inedible to snails (duckweed, hornwort, water lettuce, or water hyacinth) and then tracked edible resources (periphyton algae) and the abundance, reproduction, and infection of snail intermediate hosts for 16 weeks. We predicted that the three floating macrophytes would reduce periphyton, thereby reducing snail reproduction, abundance, and infections. In contrast, we predicted that hornwort, which is submerged and provides substrate for periphyton growth, would increase snail reproduction and abundance. As predicted, all floating macrophytes decreased periphyton, but only water hyacinth significantly decreased snail reproduction and abundance. Snail abundance increased significantly only with water lettuce. We hypothesize that this unanticipated increase in snails occurred because water lettuce produced abundant and/or high quality detritus, subsidizing snails despite low periphyton availability. Unfortunately, we detected too few infections to analyze. Aquatic macrophytes exert strong species-specific effects on snail populations. Therefore, efforts to manage invasive plants in endemic sites should evaluate changes in resources, snails, and transmission potential. We recommend caution with management efforts that produce large amounts of detritus, which might stimulate snail populations and therefore risk of human exposure.