Ecological correlates of body size in gamasid mites parasitic on small mammals: abundance and niche breadth

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We studied ecological correlates of body size (abundance and niche breadth) in gamasid mites parasitic on small mammals in 28 regions of the Palearctic. We predicted that smaller species would be characterized by higher abundance than larger species, all else (e.g. host species) being equal. We also predicted that host specificity of mites would decrease (that is, number of host species they use would increase) with an increase in their body size. We focused on mites collected from host bodies that include a) species that feed solely on host’s blood (obligate exclusive haematophages), b) species that feed on both host’s blood and small arthropods (obligate non-exclusive haematophages), and c) facultative haematophages. We expected that the relationship between body size and abundance and/or host specificity would be more pronounced in obligate exclusively haematophagous mites than for obligate non-exclusively and facultative haematophagous mites. Across all mite species across regions, mean abundance correlated negatively with body size. The same was true for obligate haematophagous species, but not for facultative haematophages. When mite communities on the same host in a location were considered, the negative body mass–abundance relationship was found in only 3 of 44 communities. Nevertheless, a meta-analytic (across host species) estimate of the slope of this relationship appeared to be significantly negative. No significant relationship between mite body size and host specificity was found in the analyses across all mite species as well as in obligate exclusive or obligate non-exclusive haematophages. However, the number of hosts used by facultative haematophagous mites decreased significantly with an increase in their body size. We explain the relationships between morphological (body size) and ecological (abundance and niche breadth) properties of ectoparasites by their interactions with hosts or physical environment.

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