Two ciliates and 16 metazoan parasites were identified in 434 0+ year three-spined sticklebacks Gasterosteus aculeatus collected from two small rivers and four lakes located in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany. By repeated sampling and analysis of dispersion patterns of six frequently occurring parasites no consistent evidence was found for mortality induced by a single parasite species. Linear log-variance to log-mean abundance ratios with slopes of c. 2 indicated negative binomial distributions for five of the six parasites. The numbers of these six parasites were combined as multiples of S.D. of each parasite species over all samples to form an ‘individual parasitation index’ (IPI), which showed that only in one locality a slight decrease in parasite burden occurred between September and April. In two of the lake populations, however, there was a distinct decline in the degree of dispersion in spring samples. This indicates that a combination of different species might cause parasite-induced host mortality, undetectable by patterns obtained from single species. There were differences in parasite diversity and intensity of infection among river compared to lake populations suggesting a role for parasites as selective agents in the ecological divergence of three-spined sticklebacks.