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Castrating host helps flatworm survive

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 17/05/2016

A flatworm parasite found in New Zealand mud flats has found a nasty way to improve its chances of survival in more acid seas - it castrates its snail host.

University of Otago researchers have been looking at how sea snails might survive in more acidic sea water predicted for the years 2100 and 2300.

They were surprised to find flatworm-infected snails survived better in more acidified seawater than non-infected ones and the scientists think a likely explanation is that infected snails have more energy to deal with increased acidification.

"Snails infected by flatworms are invariably castrated by these parasites, meaning that they no longer expend energy on reproductive activities," said lead author Colin MacLeod.

"This leaves them with more energy to maintain their acid-base balance and shell integrity in the acidified conditions."

The findings of the 90-day experiment are likely apply to a range of other marine organisms, he said.

They also strongly support a growing consensus that parasitic infection must be taken into account when trying to assess the impact of ocean acidification on important marine species, Dr McLeod said.

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