Host introductions and the geography of parasite taxonomic diversity


*Robert Poulin, Department of Zoology, University of Otago, PO Box 56, Dunedin, New Zealand. E-mail:


Aim  Geographical variation in parasite diversity is examined among populations of fish in their original heartland and in areas where they have been introduced. The diversity in heartland and introduced populations is contrasted, and also compared with the expectations of a null model.

Location  Data on the parasite communities of two salmonid fish species were obtained: the rainbow trout Oncorhynchus mykiss in its British Columbia heartland and in introduced populations in North America, Great Britain, South America and New Zealand; and the brown trout Salmo trutta in heartland populations from Great Britain, and in introduced populations in North America, South America and New Zealand.

Methods  The average taxonomic distinctness and its variance were computed for each parasite community, and used as measures of the taxonomic diversity of parasite species in each fish population. Observed values of taxonomic distinctness were also compared with those expected if each community was a random selection from the world list of parasite species known for each of the two host species.

Results  Few parasite communities departed from the expectations of the null model, i.e. few had a taxonomic diversity of parasites greater or lower than that expected from a random selection of parasite species. However, these departures were not more or less likely among heartland fish populations than among introduced ones. In both fish species, parasite communities in introduced populations tended to be a little more taxonomically diverse than in the heartland populations.

Main conclusions  Overall, the results suggest that the accumulation of parasite species in introduced hosts over short (ecological) periods of time can result in parasite assemblages that are just as, or even more, taxonomically diverse than those developed over much longer (evolutionary) time frames in the host species geographical heartland. This finding highlights the importance of ecological factors in parasite biodiversity in addition to coevolutionary processes.