Untangling the drivers of parasite diversity along gradients of natural and anthropogenic variables in a tropical crater-lake system (Kasenda, Uganda)

October 2018 to September 2022
parasite diversity
Research fields
Biology and Life Sciences

Biodiversity loss caused by human activities threatens the capacity of ecosystems worldwide to
provide essential ecological services. Hence, a growing effort is directed at understanding the
consequences of anthropogenic disturbances for biodiversity. Parasitic organisms have so far been
widely overlooked in this effort, even though parasitism is the most common feeding strategy on
Earth. One group of parasites with high societal relevance are the trematodes, flatworms utilizing
snails as intermediate hosts to infect vertebrate species, including humans, as final host.
Trematodes cause important human diseases such as schistosomiasis, a tropical disease affecting
more than 200 million people. This project will document the patterns and processes governing
the local and regional diversity of trematodes infecting the hosts of schistosomiasis - Bulinus and
Biomphalaria snails - in a crater-lake district in western Uganda which bridges the temperature
threshold of schistosomiasis infection. As these lakes cover a wide gradient of human-impact
intensity, from being heavily exploited for agriculture to being protected in a national park, this
crater-lake system represents a natural laboratory to analyze the impact of both natural and
anthropogenic environmental variation on trematode diversity within and among lakes. In order to
tackle existing difficulties in detecting and identifying trematode infections in snails, an innovative
and sensitive molecular tool will be developed.