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Adaptations and phenotypic plasticity in developmental traits of Marshallagia marshalli

Aleuy, O. Alejandro, Hoberg, Eric P., Paquette, Chelsey, Ruckstuhl, Kathreen E., Kutz, Susan
International journal for parasitology 2019 v.49 no.10 pp. 789-796
Marshallagia, Ovis canadensis, climate change, eggs, environmental factors, exaptation, feces, hatching, larvae, life history, models, parasites, phenotype, phenotypic plasticity, prediction, temperature, Eurasia, North America, Rocky Mountain region
Despite the economic, social and ecological importance of the ostertagiine abomasal nematode Marshallagia marshalli, little is known about its life history traits and its adaptations to cope with environmental extremes. Conserved species-specific traits can act as exaptations that may enhance parasite fitness in changing environments. Using a series of experiments, we revealed several unique adaptations of the free-living stages of M. marshalli that differ from other ostertagiines. Eggs were isolated from the feces of bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis) from the Canadian Rocky Mountains and were cultured at different temperatures and with different media. Hatching occurred primarily as L1s in an advanced stage of development, morphologically very similar to a L2. When cultured at 20 °C, however, 2.86% of eggs hatched as L3, with this phenomenon being significantly more common at higher temperatures, peaking at 30 °C with 28.95% of eggs hatching as L3s. After hatching, free-living larvae of M. marshalli did not feed nor grow as they matured from L1 to infective L3. These life history traits seem to be adaptations to cope with the extreme environmental conditions that Marshallagia faces across its extensive latitudinal distribution in North America and Eurasia. In order to refine the predictions of parasite dynamics under scenarios of a changing climate, basic life history traits and temperature-dependent phenotypic behaviour should be incorporated into models for parasite biology.