Using parasites to inform ecological history: Comparisons among three congeneric marine snails


Species introduced to novel regions often leave behind many parasite species. Signatures of parasite release could thus be used to resolve cryptogenic (uncertain) origins such as that of Littorina littorea, a European marine snail whose history in North America has been debated for over 100 years. Through extensive field and literature surveys, we examined species richness of parasitic trematodes infecting this snail and two co-occurring congeners, L. saxatilis and L. obtusata, both considered native throughout the North Atlantic. Of the three snails, only L. littorea possessed significantly fewer trematode species in North America, and all North American trematodes infecting the three Littorina spp. were a nested subset of Europe. Surprisingly, several of L. littorea's missing trematodes in North America infected the other Littorina congeners. Most likely, long separation of these trematodes from their former host resulted in divergence of the parasites' recognition of L. littorea. Overall, these patterns of parasitism suggest a recent invasion from Europe to North America for L. littorea and an older, natural expansion from Europe to North America for L. saxatilis and L. obtusata.

Publication Date


Journal Title



Ecological Society of America

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)


Scientific Contribution Number


Document Type



© 2008 by the Ecological Society of America