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Aggregation and species coexistence in fleas parasitic on small mammals

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The aggregation model of coexistence states that species coexistence is facilitated if interspecific aggregation is reduced relative to intraspecific aggregation. We investigated the relationship between intraspecific and interspecific aggregation in 17 component communities (the flea assemblage of a host population) of fleas parasitic on small mammals and hypothesized that interspecific interactions should be reduced relative to intraspecific interactions, facilitating species coexistence. We predicted that the reduction of the level of interspecific aggregation in relation to the level of intraspecific aggregation would be positively correlated with total flea abundance and species richness of flea assemblages. We also expected that the higher degree of facilitation of flea coexistence would be affected by host parameters such as body mass, basal metabolic rate (BMR) and depth and complexity of burrows. Results of this study supported the aggregation model of coexistence and demonstrated that, in general, a) conspecific fleas were aggregated across their hosts; b) flea assemblages were not dominated by negative interspecific interactions; and c) the level of interspecific aggregation in flea assemblages was reduced in relation to the level of intraspecific aggregation. Intraspecific aggregation tended to be correlated positively to body mass, burrow complexity and mass-independent BMR of a host. Positive interspecific associations of fleas tended to occur more frequently in species-rich flea assemblages and/or in larger hosts possessing deep complex burrows. Intraspecific aggregation increased relative to interspecific aggregation when species richness of flea infracommunities (the flea assemblage of a host individual) and component communities increased. We conclude that the pattern of flea coexistence is related both to the structure of flea communities and affinities of host species.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: April 1, 2006

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