It is estimated that over half of all species on the earth are parasitic at some stage during their life, which makes parasitism the most common lifestyle on earth. Parasites are integrated into almost every living system and recent estimates suggest parasites, and other symbiotic species, are declining at a faster rate than their vertebrate and invertebrate hosts. Given the diversity of parasites and the fact that they can cause disease and serve as a food source, it is essential to consider the role of parasite communities in wildlife conservation and ecosystem dynamics.

A cartoon diagram showing the complexity of trematode life cycle

Amphistome cercaria

Echinostome cercaria

Strigeid cercaria

Brevifurcate-apharyngeate cercaria

Glyphelmins quieta from Northern Leopard Frog

Spirorchid cercaria

Ornate cercaria

Alaria sp. digestive glands

Currently, I am interested in projects using trematode communities as an indicator of ecosystem health, anthropogenic effects on parasite transmission, and on parasite spatial ecology.

A trematode community in snail hosts is formed by the overlap of the snails with the definitive hosts. Once definitive hosts defecate parasite eggs, snails will become infected. Because fish, amphibians, reptiles, mammals, and birds all have their own distinctly unique trematode communities, the representative trematode community in a local snail population reflects information about local host biodiversity. In fact, trematodes have been considered positive indicators of ecosystem health because their life cycles make them natural indicators of environmental impacts on definitive host communities.

Flies emerging from Northern Leopard Frog

Fly eggs on the back of a Wood Frog

Halipegus eccentricus in the Eustachian tube (your left) of a bullfrog