Body size and coexistence in gamasid mites parasitic on small mammals: null model analyses at three hierarchical scales

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Abstract

We studied body size ratio in gamasid mites (Acari: Mesostigmata) parasitic on Palearctic small mammals at 3 hierarchical scales, namely infracommunities (an assemblage of mites harboured by an individual host), component communities (an assemblage of mites harboured by a host population), and compound communities (an assemblage of mites harboured by a host community). We used null models and asked a) whether body size distributions in these communities demonstrate non-random patterns; b) whether these patterns indicate segregation or aggregation of body sizes of coexisting species; and c) whether patterns of body size distribution are scale-dependent, that is, differ among infracommunities, component communities, and compound communities. In most mite assemblages, the observed pattern of body size distribution did not differ from that expected by chance. However, meta-analyses demonstrated that component and compound communities of gamasid mites consistently demonstrated a tendency to reduced body size overlap, while we did not find any clear trend in mite body size distribution across infracommunities. We discuss reasons for scale-dependence of body size distribution pattern in parasite communities and propose ecological and evolutionary mechanisms that allowed the reduced body size overlap in component and compound communities of ectoparasites to arise.

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