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Open Access Research

Observations on Neotricula aperta (Gastropoda: Pomatiopsidae) population densities in Thailand and central Laos: implications for the spread of Mekong schistosomiasis

Stephen W Attwood12* and E Suchart Upatham34

Author Affiliations

1 State Key Laboratory of Biotherapy, West China Hospital, West China Medical School, Sichuan University, Chengdu, People’s Republic of China

2 Department of Zoology, The Natural History Museum, London, United Kingdom

3 Department of Biology, Faculty of Science, Mahidol University, Bangkok, Thailand

4 Faculty of Allied Health Sciences, Burapha University, Bangsaen, Chonburi, Thailand

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Parasites & Vectors 2012, 5:126  doi:10.1186/1756-3305-5-126

Published: 21 June 2012

Abstract

Background

The snail Neotricula aperta transmits Mekong schistosomiasis in southern Laos and Cambodia, with about 1.5 million people at risk of infection. Plans are under consideration for at least 12 hydroelectric power dams on the lower Mekong river and much controversy surrounds predictions of their environmental impacts. Unfortunately, there are almost no ecological data (such as long term population trend studies) available for N. aperta which could be used in impact assessment. Predictions currently assume that the impacts will be the same as those observed in Africa (i.e., a worsening of the schistosomiasis problem); however, marked ecological differences between the snails involved suggest that region specific models are required. The present study was performed as an initial step in providing data, which could be useful in the planning of water resource development in the Mekong. Snail population density records were analyzed for populations close to, and far downstream of, the Nam Theun 2 (NT2) project in Laos in order to detect any changes that might be attributable to impoundment.

Results

The population immediately downstream of NT2 and that sampled 400 km downstream in Thailand both showed a long term trend of slow growth from 1992 to 2005; however, both populations showed a marked decline in density between 2005 and 2011. The decline in Thailand was to a value significantly lower than that predicted by a linear mixed model for the data, whilst the population density close to NT2 fell to undetectable levels in 2011 from densities of over 5000 m-2 in 2005. The NT2 dam began operation in 2010.

Conclusions

The impact of the NT2 dam on N. aperta population density could be more complex than first thought and may reflect the strict ecological requirements of this snail. There was no indication that responses of N. aperta populations to dam construction are similar to those observed with Bulinus and Schistosoma haematobium in Africa, for example. In view of the present findings, more ecological data (in particular population density monitoring and surveillance for new habitats) are urgently required in order to understand properly the likely impacts of water resource development on Mekong schistosomiasis.