ABSTRACT

Water mites of the genus Unionicola are common parasites of freshwater mussels, living on the gills or mantle of their hosts and using these tissues as sites of oviposition. Although surveys of this mite fauna among North American unionid mussels indicate that these mites represent highly diverse assemblages, we know very little regarding the determinants of Unionicola species diversity among their molluscan hosts. The present study addresses the relationship between host diversity and mite diversity for Unionicola assemblages associated with unionid mussels of North America. The results of this study found a significantly positive relationship between host species richness and mite species richness, adding to a growing body of evidence that host diversity is an important determinant of parasite diversity. In recent years, molecular sequence data have discovered cryptic biodiversity among unionid mussels, yielding revisions in the nomenclature and systematic taxonomy of the group. DNA sequence variation has also revealed cryptic species complexes among Unionicola mites. Collectively, these findings suggest that the results of the present study may be underestimating species richness among mites and their host mussels. Unfortunately, human perturbations are known to have caused high recent rates of extinction in the mussel and mite faunas of North America and could play a major role in influencing patterns of species richness for this host–parasite system moving forward.

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