Published online by Cambridge University Press: 18 January 2017
Environmental changes and ecological disturbances can have large and unpredictable effects on parasite dynamics. Increasing human impacts on freshwater ecosystems through land use may thus modify the distribution and abundance of parasites and have cascading effects on host populations. Here we tested the effects of small-scale riparian forest management on the nematode Cystidicoloides ephemeridarum and its insect intermediate host Ephemera danica in forested streams. We assessed the impacts of harvesting riparian trees on parasite prevalence and abundance concomitantly with host densities. We also looked at upstream and downstream reaches to document potential cascading effects on unaltered stream sections mediated by aerial dispersal of adult mayfly or downstream drift of E. danica larvae. We show that host densities and parasite levels (prevalence and abundance) increased significantly following riparian tree removal. Overall, parasite densities showed a 6- to 66-fold increase in harvested reaches compared to upstream, pristine reaches. Similar effects were also clear downstream of the disturbance. Thus, despite the small extent of riparian forest alteration along the study streams, both parasite and intermediate host were strongly affected. Small-scale riparian forest management may thus have large, unforeseen impacts on some aspects of freshwater ecosystem structure and functioning that are often ignored. Generally, understanding how human perturbations influence parasites is vital when trying to predict overall impacts on ecosystem structure and functioning, and how changes in infection dynamics may further affect host species.