Coevolution and compatibility in the snail–schistosome system

J. P.  WEBSTER  a1 c1 and C. M.  DAVIES  a1
a1 Wellcome Trust Centre for the Epidemiology of Infectious Disease (WTCEID), University of Oxford, South Parks Road, Oxford, OX1 3FY


In stark contrast to the huge body of theoretical work on the importance of hosts and parasites as selective agents acting on each other, until recently, little systematic empirical investigation of this issue has been attempted. Research on snail–schistosome interactions have, therefore, the potential for making an important contribution to the study of coevolution or reciprocal adaptation. This may be particularly pertinent since snail–schistosomes represent an indirectly transmitted macroparasite system, so often overlooked amongst both theoretical and empirical studies. Here we review ideas and experiments on snail–schistosome interactions, with particular emphasis on those that may have relevance to the potential coevolution between host resistance and parasite infectivity and virulence. We commence with an introduction and definition of the general concepts, before going into detail of some specific studies to illustrate these: evidence of snail–schistosome coevolutionary process in the field; evidence of coevolutionary processes in the laboratory; a general assessment of the applicability of coevolutionary models in snail–schistosome interactions; and finishing with a section on conclusions and areas for further study.

Key Words: Coevolution; compatibility; resistance; virulence; infectivity; snail; schistosome.

c1 Corresponding author: Tel: 01865 271288. Fax: 01865 281245. E-mail: