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Open Access Open Badges Research article

Relative geographic range of sibling species of host damselflies does not reliably predict differential parasitism by water mites

Julia J Mlynarek1*, Wayne Knee2 and Mark R Forbes1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Biology, Carleton University, Nesbitt Building, 1125 Colonel By Drive, Ottawa, ON K1S 5B6, Canada

2 Canadian National Collection of Insects, Arachnids and Nematodes, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, 960 Carling Avenue, K.W. Neatby Building, Ottawa, ON K1A 0C6, Canada

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BMC Ecology 2013, 13:50  doi:10.1186/1472-6785-13-50

Published: 18 December 2013



One of the main challenges in evolutionary parasitology is to determine the factors that explain variation among host species in parasitism. In this study, we addressed whether host phylogeny or ecology was important in determining host species use by water mites. Parasitism (prevalence and intensity) by Arrenurus water mites was examined in relation to geographic distribution of host damselflies from sibling species pairs. In addition, the likelihood of putative mite species parasitizing both species of a host species pair was explored.


A total of 1162 damselflies were examined for water mites across four sites in Southeastern Ontario. These damselflies represent ten species (five closely related host species pairs) in the Coenagrionidae. Only two of the five species pairs showed near significant or significant differences in prevalence of infection by mites. In one of those species comparisons, it was the less widespread host that had higher water mite prevalence and in the other species comparison, the less widespread host species had lower water mite prevalence. Only one of the five pairs showed a significant difference in intensity of infection; intensity was higher in the species with a smaller geographic distribution. Based on the COI barcode, there were nine water mite clades (OTU) infecting these ten host species. Three Arrenurus OTUs may be host monospecific, four OTUs were specific to a given host species pair, and two OTUs infected at least three host species. Host species in each species pairs tend to share at least one of the Arrenurus OTU. No striking differences in mite species diversity were found among species in any species pair. Finally, the Arrenurus examined in this study appear to be ecological specialists, restricted to a particular type of habitat, parasitizing few to many of the host species present in that site or habitat.


Although differences in levels of parasitism by water mites exist for some closely related hosts species, no such differences were found between other related host species. Differences in geographic range of related host species does not reliably explain differential levels of parasitism by water mites.