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  1. Abstract

    Agricultural expansion is predicted to increase agrochemical use two to fivefold by 2050 to meet food demand. Experimental evidence suggests that agrochemical pollution could increase snails that transmit schistosomiasis, a disease impacting 250 million people, yet most agrochemicals remain unexamined.

    Here we experimentally created >100 natural wetland communities to quantify the relative effects of fertilizer, six insecticides (chlorpyrifos, terbufos, malathion, λ‐cyhalothrin, permethrin and esfenvalerate), and six herbicides (acetochlor, alachlor, metolachlor, atrazine, propazine and simazine) on two snail genera responsible for 90% of global schistosomiasis cases.

    We identified four of six insecticides (terbufos, permethrin, chlorpyrifos and esfenvalerate) as high risk for increasing snail biomass by reducing snail predators. Hence, malathion and λ‐cyhalothrin might be useful for improving food production without increasing schistosomiasis. This top‐down effect of insecticides on predators was so strong that the effects of herbicides on schistosomiasis risk were masked in the presence of predators because there were so few snails. In the absence of snail predators, herbicide effects on snails were generally negative by reducing submerged vegetationHydrilla verticillata. The exception was that atrazine and acetochlor significantly increased the biomass of infected snails and total snails respectively.

    Like insecticides, fertilizer had strong positive effects on snail populations. Fertilizer increased both snailmore »habitat (submerged vegetation) and snail food (periphyton), but of these two pathways, the increases in snail habitat resulted in greater snail population growth. Total snail biomass was positively associated with both infected snail biomass and parasite production and thus human infection risk.

    Synthesis and applications. Our findings suggest that fertilizers and insecticides generally have consistently higher chances of increasing human schistosomiasis than herbicides in natural communities. Furthermore, our results highlight the need to identify other low risk insecticides, which might help reduce crop pests without increasing snails and thus risk of schistosomiasis.

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