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Evidence for interspecific interactions in the ectoparasite infracommunity of a wild mammal

Hoffmann, Sasha, Horak, Ivan G., Bennett, Nigel C., Lutermann, Heike
Parasites & vectors 2016 v.9 no.1 pp. 58
Rhipicephalus, chiggers, endoparasites, hosts, lice, life history, mixed infection, nontarget organisms, small mammals, ticks, Africa
BACKGROUND: Co-infection with multiple parasite species is commonly observed in nature and interspecific interactions are likely to occur in parasite infracommunities. Such interactions may affect the distribution of parasites among hosts but also the response of infracommunities to perturbations. However, the response of infracommunities to perturbations has not been well studied experimentally for ectoparasite communities of small mammal hosts. METHODS: In the current study we used experimental perturbations of the ectoparasite infracommunity of sengis from Africa. We suppressed tick recruitment by applying an acaride and monitored the effects on the ectoparasite community. RESULTS: Our treatment affected the target as well as two non-target species directly. The experimental removal of the dominant tick (Rhipicephalus spp.) resulted in increases in the abundance of chiggers and lice. However, while these effects were short-lived in chiggers, which are questing from the environment, they were long-lasting for lice which spend their entire life-cycle on the host. In addition, the recruitment rates of some ectoparasite species were high and did not always correspond to total burdens observed. CONCLUSION: These findings indicate that infracommunity interactions may contribute to patterns of parasite burdens. The divergent responses of species with differing life-history traits suggest that perturbation responses may be affected by parasite life-history and that the ectoparasite infracommunity of sengis may lack resilience to perturbations. The latter observation contrasts with the high resilience reported previously for endoparasite communities and also suggests that anti-parasite treatments can affect the distribution of non-target species.