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Host patch traits have scale-dependent effects on diversity in a stickleback parasite metacommunity

Abstract

Many metacommunities are distributed across habitat patches that are themselves aggregated into groups. Perhaps the clearest example of this nested metacommunity structure comes from multi‐species parasite assemblages, which occupy individual hosts that are aggregated into host populations. At both spatial scales, we expect parasite community diversity in a given patch (either individual host or population) to depend on patch characteristics that affect colonization rates and species sorting. But, are these patch effects consistent across spatial scales? Or, do different processes govern the distribution of parasite community diversity among individual hosts, versus among host patches? To answer these questions, we document the distribution of parasite richness among host individuals and among populations in a metapopulation of threespine stickleback Gasterosteus aculeatus. We find some host traits (host size, gape width) are associated with increased parasite richness at both spatial scales. Other patch characteristics affect parasite richness only among individuals (sex), or among populations (lake size, lake area, elevation and population mean heterozygosity). These results demonstrate that some rules governing parasite richness in this metacommunity are shared across scales, while others are scale‐specific.

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