Sarcoptes scabiei infestation does not alter the stability of ectoparasite communities

João Carvalho, Emmanuel Serrano, Nathalie Pettorelli, José E. Granados, Miguel A. Habela, Sonia Olmeda, Carlos Fonseca, Jesús M. Pérez

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    © 2016 The Author(s). Background: The host represents a heterogeneous ecosystem where multiple parasite species co-occur and interact with each other for space and resources. Although these interactions may rule the features of an infracommunity and may shape the infracommunity response to external perturbations, the resilience of ectoparasite communities to new infestations remains poorly explored. Methods: We analysed the composition of the ectoparasite communities found on 214 individual Iberian ibexes (Capra pyrenaica) inhabiting the Sierra Nevada Natural Space, southern Spain. Using classification and regression trees, we explored how the presence of Sarcoptes scabiei (a highly contagious mite), the off-host environment and the host sex govern the prevalence and abundance of lice and ticks. Null model analysis was applied to assess the impact of S. scabiei on the structure of the ectoparasite communities. Results: Our results suggest that S. scabiei infestation acts in tandem with off-host environment and host sex to define the prevalence and abundance of lice and ticks. We also provided evidence for differences in species co-occurrence only at the early stages of S. scabiei infestation. Regarding species diversity, we recorded that ectoparasite communities in scabietic ibexes reached a high richness faster than those in healthy individuals. Conclusions: Even though we show that ectoparasite burden is correlated with S. scabiei infestation, off-host environment and host sex, the species response to S. scabiei infestation and climate seem to be highly variable and influenced by ectoparasite life-history traits. Ectoparasite communities also appear resilient to perturbations which is in agreement with what was previously reported for endoparasites. Future refinement of sample collection and the incorporation of ecological and epidemiological-related variables may allow us to establish causal effects and deepen the knowledge about the mechanisms and consequences of ectoparasite interactions.
    Original languageEnglish
    Article number379
    JournalParasites and Vectors
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2016


    • Capra pyrenaica
    • Community ecology
    • Ecosystem engineer
    • Multiparasitism
    • Sarcoptes scabiei


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