We conducted a Before-After-Control-Impact (BACI) study using larval digeneans infecting the California horn snail, Cerithidea californica, to evaluate the success of an ecological restoration project at Carpinteria Salt Marsh in California, USA. Digenean trematodes are parasites with complex life cycles requiring birds and other vertebrates as final hosts. We tested two hypotheses for prevalence and species richness of larval trematodes in C. californica: (1) prior to the restoration, sites to be restored would have lower trematode prevalence and species richness relative to unimpacted control sites, and (2) that these differences would diminish after restoration. The sites to be restored were initially degraded for trematode species. They had a mean trematode prevalence (12%) and species richness (4.5 species) that were lower than control sites (28% trematode prevalence and 7 species). Despite the differences in prevalence, the proportional representation of each trematode species in the total community was similar between sites to be restored and control sites. Over the six years following restoration, trematode prevalence nearly quadrupled at restored sites (43%) while the prevalence at control sites (26%) remained unchanged. In addition, species richness at restored sites doubled (9 species), while species richness at the control sites (7.8 species) did not change. Immediately after restoration, the relative abundance of trematode species using fishes as second intermediate hosts declined while those using molluscs as second intermediate hosts increased. Trematode communities at restored and control sites gradually returned to being similar. We interpret the increase in trematode prevalence and species richness at restored sites to be a direct consequence of changes in bird use of the restored habitat. This study demonstrates a new comparative technique for assessing wetlands, and while it does not supplant biotic surveys, it informs such taxonomic lists. Most importantly, it provides a synthetic quantification of the linkages among species in wetland food webs.
Additional publication details
Using larval trematodes that parasitize snails to evaluate a saltmarsh restoration project