Evaluating the role of regional and local processes in structuring a larval trematode metacommunity of Helisoma trivolvis


K. L. D. Richgels, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Univ. of Colorado, Boulder, CO 80309, USA. E-mail: katherine.richgels@colorado.edu


Metacommunity theory has advanced our understanding of how local and regional processes affect the structure of ecological communities. While parasites have largely been omitted from metacommunity research, parasite communities can provide the large sample sizes and discrete boundaries often required for evaluating metacommunity patterns. Here, we used assemblages of flatworm parasites that infect freshwater snails (Helisoma trivolvis) to evaluate three questions: 1) what factors affect individual host infections within ponds? 2) Is the parasite metacommunity structured among ponds? And 3) what is the relative role of local versus regional processes in determining metacommunity structure and species richness among ponds? We examined 10 821 snails from 96 sites in five park complexes in the San Francisco Bay area, California, and found 953 infections from six parasite groups. At the within-pond level, infection status of host snails correlated positively with individual snail size and pond infection prevalence for all six parasite groups. Using an ordination method to test for metacommunity structure, we found that the parasite metacommunity was organized in a non-random pattern with species responding individually along an environmental gradient. Based on a model selection approach involving local and regional predictors, parasite species richness and metacommunity structure correlated with both local abiotic (pH and total dissolved nitrogen) and biotic (non-host mollusk density, and H. trivolvis biomass) factors, with little support for regional predictors. Overall, this trematode metacommunity most closely followed the predictions from the species sorting or mass effects metacommunity paradigm, in which community diversity is filtered by local site characteristics.