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Abundance patterns and coexistence processes in communities of fleas parasitic on small mammals

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The abundance of a given species in a community is likely to depend on both the total abundance and diversity of other species making up that community. A large number of co-occurring individuals or co-occurring species may decrease the abundance of any given species via diffuse competition; however, indirect interactions among many co-occurring species can have positive effects on a focal species. The existence of diffuse competition and facilitation remain difficult to demonstrate in natural communities. Here, we use data on communities of fleas ectoparasitic on small mammals from 27 distinct geographical regions to test whether the abundance of any given flea species in a community is affected by either the total abundance of all other co-occurring flea species, or the species richness and/or taxonomic diversity of the flea community. At all scales of analysis, i.e. whether we compared the same flea species on different host species, or different flea species, two consistent results emerged. First, the abundance of a given flea species correlates positively with the total abundance of all other co-occurring flea species in the community. Second, the abundance of any given flea species correlates negatively with either the species richness or taxonomic diversity of the flea community. The results do not support the existence of diffuse competition in these assemblages, because the more individuals of other flea species are present on a host population, the more individuals of the focal species are there as well. Instead, we propose explanations involving either apparent facilitation among flea species via suppression of host immune defenses, or niche filtering processes acting to restrict the taxonomic composition and abundance of flea assemblages.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: August 1, 2005

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