The influence of life history characteristics on flea (Siphonaptera) species distribution models

Van der Mescht, Luther ; Le Roux, Peter C. ; Matthee, Conrad A. ; Raath, Morgan J. ; Matthee, Sonja (2016)

CITATION: Van der Mescht, L., et al. 2016. The influence of life history characteristics on flea (Siphonaptera) species distribution models. Parasites and Vectors, 9(1): 178, doi: 10.1186/s13071-016-1466-9.

Publication of this article was funded by the Stellenbosch University Open Access Fund.

The original publication is available at


Background: Ectoparasites exhibit pronounced variation in life history characteristics such as time spent on the host and host range. Since contemporary species distribution (SD) modelling does not account for differences in life history, the accuracy of predictions of current and future species’ ranges could differ significantly between life history groups. Results SD model performance was compared between 21 flea species that differ in microhabitat preferences and level of host specificity. Distribution models generally performed well, with no significant differences in model performance based on either microhabitat preferences or host specificity. However, the relative importance of predictor variables was significantly related to host specificity, with the distribution of host-opportunistic fleas strongly limited by thermal conditions and host-specific fleas more associated with conditions that restrict their hosts’ distribution. The importance of temperature was even more pronounced when considering microhabitat preference, with the distribution of fur fleas being strongly limited by thermal conditions and nest fleas more associated with variables that affect microclimatic conditions in the host nest. Conclusions Contemporary SD modelling, that includes climate and landscape variables, is a valuable tool to study the biogeography and future distributions of fleas and other parasites taxa. However, consideration of life history characteristics is cautioned as species may be differentially sensitive to environmental conditions.

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