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Does the mode of transmission between hosts affect the host choice strategies of parasites? Implications from a field study on bat fly and wing mite infestation of Bechstein's bats


  • Karsten Reckardt,

  • Gerald Kerth

K. Reckardt ( and G. Kerth, Inst. of Zoology, Univ. of Zurich, Winterthurerstr. 190, CH–8057 Zürich, Switzerland. GK also at: Dept. Ecology and Evolution, Univ. of Lausanne, Biophore, CH–1015 Lausanne, Switzerland.


In a two-year field study, we analyzed the distribution of two hematophagous ectoparasites, the bat fly Basilia nana and the wing mite Spinturnix bechsteini, within and among 14 female colonies and among 26 solitary male Bechstein's bats Myotis bechsteinii. Our goal was to investigate whether differences in the transmission mode of the parasites, which result from differences in their life cycle, affect their distribution between host colonies and among host individuals within colonies. Bat flies deposit puparia in bat roosts, allowing for the transmission of hatched flies via successively shared roosts, independent of body contact between hosts or of hosts occupying a roost at the same time. In contrast, wing mites stay on the bat's body and are transmitted exclusively by contact of bats that roost together. As expected in cases of higher inter-colony transmissibility, bat flies were more prevalent among the demographically isolated Bechstein's bat colonies and among solitary male bats, as compared to wing mites. Moreover, the prevalence and density of wing mites, but not of bat flies, was positively correlated with colony size, as expected in cases of low inter-colony transmissibility. Within colonies, bat flies showed higher abundance on host individuals in good body condition, which are likely to have high nutritional status and strong immunity. Wing mites showed higher abundance on hosts in medium body condition and on reproductive females and juveniles, which are likely to have relatively weak immunity. We suggest that the observed infestation patterns within host colonies reflect different host choice strategies of bat flies and wing mites, which may result from differences in their inter-colony transmissibility. Our data also indicate that infestation with wing mites, but not with bat flies, might be a cost of sociality in Bechstein's bats.