Evidence for a negative fitness−density relationship between parent density and offspring quality for two Xenopsylla spp. parasitic on desert mammals

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Abstract

We tested the hypothesis of negative fitness–density relationships and predicted that an increase in the density of parent fleas would result in lower survival rates and longer development time of pre-imagoes as well as shorter time to death from starvation of newly emerged imagoes. These predictions were experimentally tested on Xenopsylla conformis Wagner and Xenopsylla ramesis Rothschild feeding on two rodent species, Meriones crassus Sundevall or Dipodillus dasyurus Wagner. Survival of larvae and pupae, but not eggs, was negatively affected by parent density. An increase in parent density led to a decrease in the number of imagoes of the next generation. Eggs of both species developed faster when the parents were at low densities on either host. The same was true for larval X. ramesis, but not larval X. conformis. The negative effects of parent density on the duration of pupal development were evident in X. conformis, parents of which fed on both hosts, and X. ramesis from parents fed on M. crassus, whereas X. ramesis from parents fed on D. dasyurus developed faster at low densities. A negative effect of density on the development of offspring from egg to imago in X. conformis was manifested mainly when parent fleas fed on D. dasyurus, whereas the negative effect of density on offspring development in X. ramesis was manifested mainly when parent fleas fed on M. crassus. Although there was no general effect of parent density on the resistance of imago offspring to starvation, male X. ramesis from parents fed at the highest density survived starvation for significantly shorter times compared with those from parents fed at lower densities. Manifestation of the negative effect of parent density on offspring quality appears to vary with flea species and may be affected by host species.

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