1. Spatial patterns in parasite community structure are probably driven by the availability of infectious stages. This is because hosts become infected through picking up infectious stages from their environment. Several studies have, however, reported strong genotype by genotype interactions and parasite-mediated selection in hosts. This leads to the prediction of a parasite by host population interaction with respect to infection rates and intensities, which may also shape spatial patterns in parasite community structure.
2. Using the water flea Daphnia magna and its microparasites as a model, we carried out a laboratory experiment to test explicitly to what extent parasite community structure in host populations is determined by the availability of infectious stages in the sediment they are exposed to, and to what extent host population identity and location play a role.
3. We exposed 10 D. magna host populations each to sediment of their own habitat and sediment of the other nine habitats, and monitored the parasite community of the resulting experimental populations.
4. Sediment seems to be a strong determinant of parasite infection rates, while there was no overall effect of host population. Sympatric parasite and host population combinations did in most cases not result in significantly different infection rates than allopatric parasite and host combinations. Our results indicate that spore availability could be the key variable determining parasite community structure in natural Daphnia populations.