Diversification of ectoparasite assemblages and climate: an example with fleas parasitic on small mammals Academic Article uri icon

abstract

  • Aim  We studied the relationships between the numbers of species and numbers of higher taxa (genera, tribes, subfamilies and families) in flea assemblages of small mammalian hosts with the aims of: (a) comparing these relationships across different regions, and (b) testing the hypothesis that flea assemblages in warmer regions diversify mainly via intrahost speciation, whereas those in colder regions diversify mainly via host switching. Location  The study used previously published data on flea assemblages on small mammalian hosts from 25 different regions of the Holarctic. Methods  The number of flea genera, tribes, subfamilies or families in an assemblage (host species) was plotted against the number of flea species in this assemblage for each region separately, and a power function was fitted to the resulting relationships. Then, the values of the exponent of the power function for a region were regressed against the mean annual temperature in this region, across all regions. Results  The relationships between the number of flea species and the numbers of flea genera, tribes, subfamilies or families on a host species in each region were found to be well described by simple power functions. The exponent of the power function of the relationship between the number of flea species and the number of flea genera per host tended to decrease with increasing local mean annual temperature. When two apparent outliers from the trend (corresponding to regions where sampling was not performed as in other regions) were omitted from the analysis, the negative relationship between temperature and the exponent of the power function between the number of flea species and number of flea genera per host became highly significant. No relationship was found between the values of the exponents of the power functions between the number of flea species and the number of flea tribes, subfamilies or families per host, and the mean local annual temperature. Main conclusions  The results suggest that the diversification of flea assemblages is associated with climatic variables. In warm regions, the greater number of congeneric species per flea assemblage, reflected by the lower exponent of the power function, may well be the outcome of intrahost speciation. This indicates that, as regional temperature increases, intrahost speciation becomes a relatively more important mode of diversification than acquisition of fleas via host switching.

publication date

  • January 27, 2005