Email updates

Keep up to date with the latest news and content from BMC Evolutionary Biology and BioMed Central.

Open Access Research article

The effect of host social system on parasite population genetic structure: comparative population genetics of two ectoparasitic mites and their bat hosts

Jaap van Schaik1*, Gerald Kerth2, Nadia Bruyndonckx3 and Philippe Christe3

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Behavioural Ecology and Evolutionary Genetics, Max Planck Institute for Ornithology, Eberhard-Gwinner-Strasse, 82319 Seewiesen, Germany

2 Zoological Institute & Museum, Greifswald University, J.-S.-Bach-Str. 11 / 12, D-17489 Greifswald, Germany

3 Department of Ecology and Evolution, University of Lausanne, Biophore, CH-1015 Lausanne, Switzerland

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Evolutionary Biology 2014, 14:18  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-14-18

Published: 30 January 2014



The population genetic structure of a parasite, and consequently its ability to adapt to a given host, is strongly linked to its own life history as well as the life history of its host. While the effects of parasite life history on their population genetic structure have received some attention, the effect of host social system has remained largely unstudied. In this study, we investigated the population genetic structure of two closely related parasitic mite species (Spinturnix myoti and Spinturnix bechsteini) with very similar life histories. Their respective hosts, the greater mouse-eared bat (Myotis myotis) and the Bechstein’s bat (Myotis bechsteinii) have social systems that differ in several substantial features, such as group size, mating system and dispersal patterns.


We found that the two mite species have strongly differing population genetic structures. In S. myoti we found high levels of genetic diversity and very little pairwise differentiation, whereas in S. bechsteini we observed much less diversity, strongly differentiated populations and strong temporal turnover. These differences are likely to be the result of the differences in genetic drift and dispersal opportunities afforded to the two parasites by the different social systems of their hosts.


Our results suggest that host social system can strongly influence parasite population structure. As a result, the evolutionary potential of these two parasites with very similar life histories also differs, thereby affecting the risk and evolutionary pressure exerted by each parasite on its host.

Coevolution; Host-parasite interaction; Local adaptation; Social system; Myotis myotis; Spinturnix myoti; Myotis bechsteinii; Spinturnix bechsteini