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Ectoparasite community structure on three closely related seabird hosts: a multiscale approach combining ecological and genetic data

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Parasite communities can be structured at different spatial scales depending on the level of organization of the hosts; hence, examining this structure should be a multiscale process. We investigated ectoparasite community structure in three closely related seabird hosts, the Mediterranean Cory's shearwater Calonectris diomedea diomedea, the Atlantic Cory's shearwater C. d. borealis and the Cape Verde shearwater C. edwardsii. This community was composed of three lice (Halipeurus abnormis, Austromenopon echinatum and Saemundssonia peusi) and one flea species (Xenopsylla gratiosa), and was considered at the infra-, component and regional community levels. We examined temporal and spatial structuring of the infracommunities, the influence of host aggregation and body condition on the component community, and the effect of genetic and geographic connectivity among host populations on the regional community. Ectoparasite infracommunities showed substantial species overlaps in temporal patterns of abundance, but species were spatially segregated within the host body. Within component communities, all ectoparasite species showed an aggregated distribution in abundance. However, aggregation patterns and their relationships with the spatial distribution of hosts within the breeding colony differed among ectoparasite species, mainly reflecting ecological differences between fleas and lice. At the regional scale, similarity in ectoparasite communities correlated with geographic distances among host colonies, but not with genetic distances. This result suggests differences in climate and habitat characteristics among host localities as a major determinant of regional communities, rather than host connectivity. Taken together, our results highlight the importance of the geographic distribution of host breeding colonies and the spatial segregation within the host body as key factors in determining ectoparasite community structure in Calonectris shearwaters.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: August 1, 2008

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