Host–parasite determinants of parasite population structure: lessons from bats and mites on the importance of time


Karen D. McCoy, Fax: +33 (0)4 67 41 62 99; E-mail:


By definition, parasitic organisms are strongly dependant on their hosts, and for a great majority, this dependence includes host-to-host transmission. Constraints imposed by the host’s spatial distribution and demography, in combination with those of the parasite, can lead to a metapopulation structure, where parasite populations are highly stochastic (i.e. prone to frequent extinctions and re-colonizations) and where drift becomes a major force shaping standing genetic variation. This, in turn, will directly affect the observed population structure, along with the ability of the parasite to adapt (or co-adapt) to its host. However, only a specific consideration of temporal dynamics can reveal the extent to which drift shapes parasite population structure; this is rarely taken into account in population genetic studies of parasitic organisms. The study by Bruyndonckx et al. in this issue of Molecular Ecology does just this and, in doing so, illustrates how a comparison of host–parasite co-structures in light of temporal dynamics can be particularly informative for understanding the ecological and evolutionary constraints imposed by the host. More specifically, the authors examine spatial and temporal population genetic data of a parasitic mite Spinturnix bechsteini that exclusively exploits the Bechstein’s bat Myotis bechsteinii and consider these data in relation to host–parasite life histories and the population structure of the host.