Reproductive performance in generalist haematophagous ectoparasites: maternal environment, rearing conditions or both?

Luther van der Mescht, Irina S. Khokhlova, Elena N. Surkova, Elizabeth M. Warburton, Boris R. Krasnov

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


We tested whether and how the maternal environment (i.e. host species exploited by a mother), rearing conditions (i.e. host species exploited by her offspring) or both (i.e. matches and mismatches in host species exploited by a mother and her offspring) affect reproductive performance in the offspring. We experimentally manipulated maternal and rearing environments in two generalist fleas (Xenopsylla conformis and Xenopsylla ramesis) implementing a factorial cross-rearing design. Mothers exploited either the principal host (PH) or auxiliary hosts that were either closely (CAH) or distantly related (DAH) to the PH. After six generations of infesting a given host species, we cross-reared fleas within and between host species. These fleas reproduced and we measured their reproductive performance both quantitatively (i.e. egg number) and qualitatively (i.e. egg size, development time, body size of the next generation). We found that identity of the host a flea was reared on (=actual host) had the strongest effect on its performance. Individuals reared on the PH performed considerably better than those reared on either auxiliary host. Moreover, fleas reared on a CAH performed better than those reared on a DAH. Actual host identity also had a stronger effect on reproductive performance in X. ramesis than in X. conformis. Nevertheless, there was no difference in performance between match and mismatch maternal and actual host identities. We conclude that rearing environment has the strongest effect on fitness in generalist parasites. Moreover, phylogenetic distance between an auxiliary host and the PH determines the level of suitability of the former.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2087-2096
Number of pages10
JournalParasitology Research
Issue number7
StatePublished - 1 Jul 2019


  • Fleas
  • Maternal environment
  • Mismatching environments
  • Offspring performance
  • Rearing conditions
  • Rodents

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Parasitology
  • Veterinary (all)
  • Insect Science
  • Infectious Diseases


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