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Spatial variation in population density across the geographical range in helminth parasites of yellow perch Perca flavescens

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The abundance of a species is not constant across its geographical range; it has often been assumed to decrease from the centre of a species’ range toward its margins. The central assumption of this “favourable centre” model is tested for the first time with parasites, using different species of helminth parasites exploiting fish as definitive hosts. Data on prevalence (percentage of hosts that are infected) and abundance (mean no. parasites per host) were compiled for 8 helminth species occurring in 23 populations of yellow perch Perca flavescens, from continental North America. For each parasite species, correlations were computed between latitude and both local prevalence and abundance values. In addition, the relationships between the relative prevalence or abundance in one locality and the distance between that locality and the one where the maximum value was reported, were assessed separately for each species to determine whether abundance tends to decrease away from the presumed centre of the range, where it peaks. For both the cestode Proteocephalus pearsei and the acanthocephalan Leptorhynchoides thecatus, there was a positive relationship between prevalence or abundance and the latitude of the sampled population. There was also a significant negative relationship between relative prevalence and the distance from the locality showing the maximum value in P. pearsei, but no such pattern was observed for the other 7 parasite species. Since this single significant decrease in prevalence with increasing distance from the peak value may be confounded by a latitudinal gradient, it appears that the distribution of abundance in parasites of perch does not follow the favourable centre model. This means that the environmental variables affecting the density of parasites (host availability, abiotic conditions) do not show pronounced spatial autocorrelation, with nearby sites not necessarily providing more similar conditions for the growth of parasite populations than distant sites.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: October 1, 2007

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