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Oecologia. 2003 Feb;134(3):365-72. Epub 2002 Dec 19.

Density-dependent host selection in ectoparasites: an application of isodar theory to fleas parasitizing rodents.

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  • 1Ramon Science Centre and Mitrani Department of Desert Ecology, Jacob Blaustein Institute for Desert Research, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, P.O. Box 194, 80600 Mizpe Ramon, Israel.


Parasites should make the same decisions that every animal makes regarding fitness reward. They can maximize reproductive success by selection of those habitats that guarantee the greatest fitness output. We consider the host population as a habitat of a parasite population. Consequently, hosts (=habitats) that differ quantitatively or qualitatively will support different numbers of parasites. The nature of habitat selection can be detected by isodars, lines along which habitat selection yields equivalent fitness reward. We applied this approach to study host selection of five fleas, each infesting two desert rodents. Xenopsylla conformis, Xenopsylla ramesis, Nosopsyllus iranus theodori and Stenoponia tripectinata medialis parasitize Gerbillus dasyurus and Meriones crassus. Synosternus cleopatrae pyramidis parasitizes Gerbillus andersoni allenbyi and Gerbillus pyramidum. Three fleas ( X. conformis, X. ramesis and S. c. pyramidis) were able to perceive quantitative (amount of the resource; e.g. organic matter in the nest for flea larvae) and/or qualitative (pattern of resource acquisition; e.g. host defensiveness) differences between hosts. Two other fleas did not perceive between-host differences. X. conformis was a density-dependent host selector that showed sharp selectivity at low density. X. ramesis and S. c. pyramidis were density-independent host selectors with a direct correspondence of density with habitat quality. N. i. theodori and S. t. medialis were non-selectors with no relationship at all between density and host quality. The results of the application of the isodar theory suggest that ectoparasites, like other animals, behave as if they are able to make choices and decisions that favour environments in which their reproductive benefit is maximized.

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