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Nested pattern in flea assemblages across the host's geographic range

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Understanding non-random patterns in the taxonomic composition of communities occurring in insular or fragmented habitats remains a major goal of ecology. Nested subset patterns are one possible departure from random community assembly that has been reported for communities of both free-living and parasitic animals. Here, we investigate the effects of extrinsic factors on the occurrence of nestedness among the assemblages of fleas found in different populations of the same host species, using data on 25 mammalian host species. The patterns of flea species composition among host populations spanned the entire spectrum from significantly nested to significantly anti-nested. After controlling for host phylogeny, we found that across host species, the tendency for flea assemblages to approach nestedness increased with increasing host geographic range size and with decreasing latitude of the host's geographic range. This tendency also decreased with an increase in a composite variable combining data on mean January and July temperature. The number of closely-related mammalian species living in sympatry with a given host species had no influence on whether or not the structure of flea assemblages among its populations departed from randomness. We propose explanations for these results that include: the possible gradual loss of flea species as a host expands its range from its initial area of origin, the lack of specific flea faunas in narrowly-distributed host species, interspecific differences in the dispersal abilities of flea species becoming amplified in hosts with broad geographical ranges, and the effect of latitude, climate and environment on the probabilities of host-switching and extinction in fleas. Overall, our results suggest that the structure of flea assemblages in mammalian hosts may be driven by features of host biology.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: August 1, 2005

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