We studied the relationships between body size and (a) abundance and (b) host specificity in fleas parasitic on small mammals (rodents and shrews) in the Palearctic taking into account the confounding effect of phylogeny. We tested these relationships both across 127 flea species and within separate phylogenetic clades, predicting higher abundance and lower host specificity (in terms of the number or diversity of hosts used by a flea) in smaller species. We also tested for the relationships between body size and abundance separately for species that spend most of their lives on a host’s body (the “body” fleas) and species that spend most of their lives in a host’s burrow or nest (the “nest” fleas). A significant phylogenetic signal in body size was detected across all fleas, as well as in five of six separate clades. Across all fleas and in majority of phylogenetic clades, mean abundance significantly increased with an increase in body size. The same pattern was found for both the “body” and the “nest” fleas, although the slope of the relationship appeared to be steeper in the former than in the latter. Neither measure of host specificity demonstrated a significant correlation with body size regardless of the subset of flea species analysed. We explain higher abundance attained by larger flea species by higher fecundity and/or competitive advantage upon smaller species at larval stage. We conclude that the macroecological patterns reported to date in parasites are far from being universal.
- Body length
- Host specificity