Combining data from morphological traits and genetic markers to determine transmission cycles in the tape worm, Echinococcus granulosus

A. J. LYMBERY a1c1
a1 Agriculture Western Australia, PO Box 1231, Bunbury, WA 6231, Australia and School of Veterinary Studies, Murdoch University, Murdoch, WA 6150, Australia


Species of Echinococcus (Cestoda: Taeniidae) require 2 mammalian hosts to complete their life-cycle; a carnivorous definitive host, and a herbivorous or omnivorous intermediate host. For most species of Echinococcus, the definitive host range is restricted to 1 or a few species, but the intermediate host range is very broad. Programmes to control hydatid disease attempt to break the life-cycle of the parasite and their effectiveness is therefore enhanced by an understanding of local patterns of transmission. Although it is known that the rostellar hooks of protoscoleces may be influenced by the species of intermediate host in which they develop, the application of this knowledge to infer transmission cycles has been limited, because the intermediate host effect has not been isolated from other environmental and genetic components of phenotypic variance. This study presents a method for separating these potentially confounding genetic and environmental effects, by combining quantitative genetic analyses of hook traits with data on population structure from neutral genetic markers. The method was applied to 5 hook traits (hook number, total length of large hooks, blade length of large hooks, total length of small hooks, blade length of small hooks) measured on protoscoleces from 2 intermediate host types (sheep and macropod marsupials) in Australia. Although genetic variance was similar for all traits, they differed markedly in the extent of environmental variance attributed to development in different host types. Total length of small hooks was the trait most affected, with 49–60% of phenotypic variance being explained by environmental differences between intermediate host species. Blade length of small hooks was least affected, with none of the phenotypic variance due to intermediate host origin. These data suggest that hook measurements of adult worms from naturally infected definitive hosts could be used to determine the intermediate host species from which infection was acquired, if the appropriate traits are measured.

(Received December 10 1997)
(Revised February 25 1998)
(Accepted March 18 1998)

Key Words: Echinococcus granulosus; transmission cycles; population genetics; quantitative genetics; allozymes; morphology.

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