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Blood Fluke Cycles: A Journey of Discovery in a Web of Host-Parasite Interactions

Isaure de Buron, College of Charleston

13 April 2018

While parasites often get bad press, they should be considered like all other organisms as integral components of ecosystems. Given their high diversity and occurrence, parasites should not be ignored when studying organismal interactions, and the important role they play in the resiliency and functionality of food webs is well established. However, predator-prey interactions are not the only way parasites play roles in ecosystems. Some parasites have free-living infective stages that infect their hosts by actively penetrating their epithelia. Hosts that are involved in these parasites’ life cycles interact, albeit indirectly, and parasites may be the sole indicators that such interactions occur. These ‘silent’ interactions are significant because when the hosts involved are impacted by environmental changes for instance, the life cycle of the parasite can be affected and, in turn, the impact of the parasite on the hosts may be exacerbated or reduced. An example of such parasites are blood flukes, whose adult stages infect the cardiovascular system of elasmobranchs, teleosts, turtles, birds, and mammals. Very little is known about marine blood flukes. Seatrout, Cynoscion nebulosus, are commonly infected by pathogenic blood flukes in their heart and the de Buron lab's goal was to further their understanding of the factors that may affect parasitization by blood flukes in seatrout in order to potentially mitigate infection in the wild. This seminar will take the audience through the journey of elucidating the life cycle of the seatrout blood flukes; a journey with both ups and downs, but one that resulted in increasing our knowledge of parasite diversity as well as some previously unexplored silent interactions between organisms in SC estuaries.