Dark host specificity in two ectoparasite taxa: repeatability, parasite traits, and environmental effects

Boris R. Krasnov, Maxim V. Vinarski, Natalia P. Korallo-Vinarskaya, Georgy I. Shenbrot, Irina S. Khokhlova

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


We applied the concept of dark diversity (species that may potentially inhabit a locality but are absent) to the host spectrum of a parasite and defined it as dark host specificity (DHS). We studied the trait-associated and geographic patterns of dark host specificity in fleas and gamasid mites parasitic on small mammals, asking the following questions: (a) Is dark host specificity repeatable across populations of the same species? (b) Is it associated with morphological and/or ecological species traits? (c) What are the factors associated with geographical variation in the DHS among populations of the same species? The DHS was repeatable within species with a large proportion of variance among samples, accounted for by differences between species. The average DHS of fleas, but not mites, was affected by parasite traits, with the DHS being higher in fleas with larger geographic ranges, higher characteristic abundance levels, and summer reproduction peaks. In the majority of ectoparasites, the regional DHS decreased with an increase in either structural or phylogenetic host specificity. The associations between the DHS and the environmental or host-associated characteristics of a region were revealed in a few species (eight of 22 fleas and three of 12 mites). The DHS decreased with (a) an increase in air temperature in two fleas, (b) a decrease in precipitation in two fleas, and (c) an increase in regional host species richness (in three fleas and three mites). Overall, our results suggest that dark host specificity in arthropod ectoparasites is a species-specific character associated, to a large extent, with the breadth of their host-related niches, while the influences of parasite traits and local environmental conditions are minor.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)851-866
Number of pages16
JournalParasitology Research
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1 Mar 2022


  • Dark diversity
  • Environment
  • Fleas
  • Host specificity
  • Mites
  • Traits

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Veterinary
  • Insect Science
  • Infectious Diseases
  • Parasitology


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