Species Richness of Parasite Assemblages: Evolution and PatternsRobert Poulin
Parasite communities are arranged into hierarchical levels of organization, covering various spatial and temporal scales. These range from all parasites within an individual host to all parasites exploiting a host species across its geographic range. This arrangement provides an opportunity for the study of patterns and structuring processes operating at different scales. Across the parasite faunas of various host species, several species-area relationships have been published, emphasizing the key role of factors such as host size or host geographical range in determining parasite species richness. When corrections are made for unequal sampling effort or phylogenetic influences, however, the strength of these relationships is greatly reduced, casting a doubt over their validity. Component parasite communities, or the parasites found in a host population, are subsets of the parasite fauna of the host species. They often form saturated communities, such that their richness is not always a reflection of that of the entire parasite fauna. The species richness of component communities is instead influenced by the local availability of parasite species and their probability of colonization. At the lowest level, infracommunities in individual hosts are subsets of the species occurring in the component community. Generally, their structure does not differ from that expected from a random assembly of available species, although comparisons with precise null models are still few. Overall studies of parasite communities suggest that the action of processes determining species richness of parasite assemblages becomes less detectable as focus shifts from parasite faunas to infracommunities.