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Parasite life-cycle studies: a plea to resurrect an old parasitological tradition

  • I. Blasco-Costa (a1) and R. Poulin (a2)

Abstract

Many helminth taxa have complex life cycles, involving different life stages infecting different host species in a particular order to complete a single generation. Although the broad outlines of these cycles are known for any higher taxon, the details (morphology and biology of juvenile stages, specific identity of intermediate hosts) are generally unknown for particular species. In this review, we first provide quantitative evidence that although new helminth species are described annually at an increasing rate, the parallel effort to elucidate life cycles has become disproportionately smaller over time. We then review the use of morphological matching, experimental infections and genetic matching as approaches to elucidate helminth life cycles. Next we discuss the various research areas or disciplines that could benefit from a solid knowledge of particular life cycles, including integrative taxonomy, the study of parasite evolution, food-web ecology, and the management and control of parasitic diseases. Finally, we end by proposing changes to the requirements for new species descriptions and further large-scale attempts to genetically match adult and juvenile helminth stages in regional faunas, as part of a plea to parasitologists to bring parasite life-cycle studies back into mainstream research.

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