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Can infection by eugregarine parasites mediate species coexistence in Calopteryx damselflies?


Jukka Suhonen, Section of Ecology, Department of Biology, University of Turku, Turku FIN-20014, Finland. E-mail:


1. Parasitism may be an important factor determining the coexistence of closely related species. Although host–parasite interactions can affect the ecology and distribution of the host species, virtually nothing is known about how other interspecific interactions affecting the host, such as competition or predation, relate to the parasite burden of the host.

2. We studied parasite-mediated competition between two closely related Calopteryx damselflies, C. virgo L. and C. splendens Harris. We investigated a total of 31 populations, including 18 allopatric and 13 sympatric populations. We measured the occurrence of gut parasites, eugregarines.

3. We found that the prevalence of gregarines was higher in C. virgo than in C. splendens. On average, more than half of the C. virgo individuals were infected by eugregarines both in allopatric and sympatric populations. However, hardly any allopatric C. splendens populations had gregarines, but most of sympatric populations had infected individuals.

4. According to our results, co-existence of the host species affects the likelihood of the subordinate species showing higher levels of parasitism. Interspecific aggression, lower species genetic heterozygosity, and the difference in host species immunity are proposed as possible explanations for greater parasite burdens in the inferior species at sympatric sites.