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Richness, structure and functioning in metazoan parasite communities


  • David Mouillot,

  • Mario George-Nascimento,

  • Robert Poulin

D. Mouillot, UMR CNRS-UMII 5119 Ecosystèmes Lagunaires, Univ. Montpellier II CC 093, FR-34095 Montpellier Cedex 5, France ( – M. George-Nascimento, Depto de Ecología Costera, Facultad de Ciencias, Univ. Católica de la Santísima Concepción, Casilla 297, Concepción, Chile. – R. Poulin, Dept of Zoology, Univ. of Otago, P.O. Box 56, Dunedin, New Zealand.


Ecosystem functioning, characterized by components such as productivity and stability, has been extensively linked with diversity in recent years, mainly in plant ecology. The aim of our study was thus to quantify general relationships between diversity, community structure and ecosystem functions in metazoan parasite communities. We used data on parasite communities from 15 species of marine fish hosts from coastal Chile. The volumetric abundance (volume of all parasite species per individual host, in mm3) was used as a surrogate for productivity. Species diversity was measured using both species richness and evenness, while community structure was estimated using the co-occurrence indices V-ratio, C-score and a new C-scores index standardized for the number of host replicates. After correcting for fish size, 47% of host species show no relationship, 13% show a hump shaped curve and 40% show positive monotonic relationships between productivity and parasite richness across all host individuals in a sample. We obtained a logarithmically decreasing relationship between evenness and productivity for all fish species, and propose a ‘dominance-resistance’ hypothesis based on immunity to explain this pattern. The stability of the parasite community, measured as the coefficient of variation in productivity among individual hosts, was strongly and positively related to mean species richness across the 15 host species. The C-scores index, based on the number of checkerboard units in the host-parasite presence/absence matrix, increases linearly with mean productivity across the 15 host species, suggesting that parasite communities tend to be more structured when they are more productive. This is the likely reason why linear relationships between richness and productivity were not observed consistently in all fish species. Parasite communities provide some clear patterns for the diversity–ecosystem functioning debate in ecology, although other factors, such as the history of community assembly, may also influence these patterns.