Sex-biased parasitism is not universal : evidence from rodentflea associations from three biomes
Faculty of Sciences. Biology
Oecologia. - Berlin
, p. 1009-1022
University of Antwerp
The distribution of parasites among individual hosts is characterised by high variability that is believed to be a result of variations in host traits. To find general patterns of host traits affecting parasite abundance, we studied flea infestation of nine rodent species from three different biomes (temperate zone of central Europe, desert of Middle East and tropics of East Africa). We tested for independent and interactive effects of host sex and body mass on the number of fleas harboured by an individual host while accounting for spatial clustering of host and parasite sampling and temporal variation. We found no consistent patterns of the effect of host sex and body mass on flea abundance either among species within a biome or among biomes. We found evidence for sex-biased flea infestation in just five host species (Apodemus agrarius, Myodes glareolus, Microtus arvalis, Gerbillus andersoni, Mastomys natalensis). In six rodent species, we found an effect of body mass on flea abundance (all species mentioned above and Meriones crassus). This effect was positive in five species and negative in one species (Microtus arvalis). In M. glareolus, G. andersoni, M. natalensis, and M. arvalis, the relationship between body mass and flea abundance was mediated by host sex. This was manifested in steeper change in flea abundance with increasing body mass in male than female individuals (M. glareolus, G. andersoni, M. natalensis), whereas the opposite pattern was found in M. arvalis. Our findings suggest that sex and body mass are common determinants of parasite infestation in mammalian hosts, but neither of them follows universal rules. This implies that the effect of host individual characteristics on mechanisms responsible for flea acquisition may be manifested differently in different host species.