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The encapsulated embryos of platyhelminths may be retained and complete their development in utero in a range of circumstances. However, hatching within the parent (the criterion of ovoviviparity) is relatively rare and larvae generally emerge only after deposition. Viviparity is characterized by the nutritional dependency of the unencapsulated larva upon the parent, but in several cases larvae retained within a shell also receive parental nutrients during intra-uterine development. Uptake of exogenous nutrients via shell pores occurs in Schistosoma mansoni but the eggs, which gain all the advantages of intra-uterine retention, are supported by host nutrients.
Intra-uterine larval development avoids the hazards of development in the external environment and eliminates the time delay between oviposition and infection. Deposition of immediately infective offspring may be concentrated in time and space to exploit periods of host vulnerability. The control and precision of transmission is illustrated by examples in which the opportunity for invasion is restricted because of either host behaviour or environmental instability. This strategy has been an important factor in the evolution of polystomatid monogeneans, and its effectiveness is demonstrated by comparison of the life-cycles of Polystoma integerrimum and Pseudodiplorchis americanus. Ovoviviparity also increases reproductive potential in some polystomatids by extending the period of multiplication and by increasing established populations through internal re-infection. In Eupolystoma alluaudi, the capacity for ovoviviparity is programmed into larval development and this regulates population growth within individual hosts.
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