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Open Access Research article

Comparative tests of ectoparasite species richness in seabirds

Joseph Hughes* and Roderic DM Page

Author Affiliations

Department of Environmental and Evolutionary Biology, University of Glasgow, UK

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2007, 7:227  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-7-227

Published: 15 November 2007

Abstract

Background

The diversity of parasites attacking a host varies substantially among different host species. Understanding the factors that explain these patterns of parasite diversity is critical to identifying the ecological principles underlying biodiversity. Seabirds (Charadriiformes, Pelecaniformes and Procellariiformes) and their ectoparasitic lice (Insecta: Phthiraptera) are ideal model groups in which to study correlates of parasite species richness. We evaluated the relative importance of morphological (body size, body weight, wingspan, bill length), life-history (longevity, clutch size), ecological (population size, geographical range) and behavioural (diving versus non-diving) variables as predictors of louse diversity on 413 seabird hosts species. Diversity was measured at the level of louse suborder, genus, and species, and uneven sampling of hosts was controlled for using literature citations as a proxy for sampling effort.

Results

The only variable consistently correlated with louse diversity was host population size and to a lesser extent geographic range. Other variables such as clutch size, longevity, morphological and behavioural variables including body mass showed inconsistent patterns dependent on the method of analysis.

Conclusion

The comparative analysis presented herein is (to our knowledge) the first to test correlates of parasite species richness in seabirds. We believe that the comparative data and phylogeny provide a valuable framework for testing future evolutionary hypotheses relating to the diversity and distribution of parasites on seabirds.