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Connectance and parasite diet breadth in flea-mammal webs

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The number of links in webs of species interactions, which lies at the heart of the biodiversity-stability debate, has given rise to controversy during the last 20 yr. Studies exploring these web properties have mainly focused on symmetric webs where each species can potentially feed on any other species; asymmetric webs such as host-parasite webs, where one set of species feed on another set of species, have been overlooked. However, food webs are incomplete without parasites and the study of parasite-host sub-web properties deserves attention. Here, using a large database involving 33 regional interaction webs between mammals and their flea parasites, we found a negative relationship between species richness and host-parasite connectance. We suggest that some phylogenetic constraints on flea diet may explain our observed patterns because we found that parasite diet breadth, measured as host taxonomic diversity, was invariant along our host richness gradient. We found that the slope of the logarithmic relationship between the number of realized links and species richness is lower than slope values reported for food webs. We suggest that connectance may not respond to increasing species richness as rapidly in host-parasite webs as in predator-prey food webs due to stronger coevolutionary requirements.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: February 1, 2008

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