Parasites often confront conflicting demands when evaluating and distributing themselves among host individuals, in order to attain maximum reproductive success. We tested two alternative hypotheses about host preference by fleas in relation to the age of their rodent host. The first hypothesis suggests that fleas select adult over juvenile rodents because the latter represent a better nutritional resource (the "well-fed host" hypothesis), whereas the second hypothesis suggests that fleas prefer the weaker and less resistant juveniles because they are easier to colonise and exploit ("poorly fed host" hypothesis). We sampled fleas (Synosternus cleopatrae) on the gerbil (Gerbillus andersoni) in 23 different plots in the Negev desert and found an unequal distribution of fleas between adult and juvenile hosts. Furthermore, flea distribution changed as a function of flea density-from juvenile-biased flea parasitism (the "poorly fed host" hypothesis) at low densities to adult-biased flea parasitism (the "well-fed host" hypothesis) at high densities. Other factors that influenced flea preference were soil temperature and the presence of ticks. These results suggest that host selection is not an explicit alternative choice between adults and juveniles ("well-fed host" versus "poorly fed host" hypotheses), but rather a continuum where the distribution between adults and juveniles depends on host, parasite, and environmentally related factors.
- Distribution among host individuals
- Interspecific interactions between parasites
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics