Phoretic dispersal influences parasite population genetic structure

Emily DiBlasi, Kevin P. Johnson, Sydney A. Stringham, Angela N. Hansen, Andrew B. Beach, Dale H. Clayton, Sarah E. Bush

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Dispersal is a fundamental component of the life history of most species. Dispersal influences fitness, population dynamics, gene flow, genetic drift and population genetic structure. Even small differences in dispersal can alter ecological interactions and trigger an evolutionary cascade. Linking such ecological processes with evolutionary patterns is difficult, but can be carried out in the proper comparative context. Here, we investigate how differences in phoretic dispersal influence the population genetic structure of two different parasites of the same host species. We focus on two species of host-specific feather lice (Phthiraptera: Ischnocera) that co-occur on feral rock pigeons (Columba livia). Although these lice are ecologically very similar, “wing lice” (Columbicola columbae) disperse phoretically by “hitchhiking” on pigeon flies (Diptera: Hippoboscidae), while “body lice” (Campanulotes compar) do not. Differences in the phoretic dispersal of these species are thought to underlie observed differences in host specificity, as well as the degree of host–parasite cospeciation. These ecological and macroevolutionary patterns suggest that body lice should exhibit more genetic differentiation than wing lice. We tested this prediction among lice on individual birds and among lice on birds from three pigeon flocks. We found higher levels of genetic differentiation in body lice compared to wing lice at two spatial scales. Our results indicate that differences in phoretic dispersal can explain microevolutionary differences in population genetic structure and are consistent with macroevolutionary differences in the degree of host–parasite cospeciation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2770-2779
Number of pages10
JournalMolecular ecology
Issue number12
StatePublished - Jun 2018


  • birds
  • community ecology
  • host–parasite interactions
  • insects
  • population genetics—empirical
  • species interactions

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics

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