Populations of a host species may exhibit different assemblages of parasites and other symbionts. The loss of certain species of symbionts (lineage sorting, or “missing-the-boat”) is a mechanism by which geographical variation in symbiont assemblages can arise. We studied feather mites and lice from Australian brush-turkeys (Aves: Megapodiidae: Alectura lathami) and expected to observe geographical structuring in arthropod assemblages for several reasons. First, because the brush-turkey is a sedentary ground-dwelling bird, we predicted that geographically close host populations should share more similar arthropod assemblages than distant ones. Second, because brush-turkeys do not brood their young, vertical transfer of arthropods is unlikely, and brush-turkeys probably acquire their mites and lice at social maturity through contact with other birds. Young birds could disperse and found new populations without carrying complete sets of symbionts. We predicted that young birds would have fewer species of arthropods than older birds; in addition, we expected that males (which are polygynous) would have more species than females. Birds were sampled from 12 sites (=populations) along the east coast of Queensland, Australia, that were separated by a distance of 12.5–2,005 km. In total, 5 species of mites from the Pterolichidae and 1 species from the Ascouracaridae were found. Two species of lice were collected but in numbers too low to be statistically useful. Differentiation of mite assemblages was evident; in particular, Leipobius sp. showed 100% prevalence in 3 host populations and 0% in the remaining 9. A dendrogram of brush-turkey populations based on mite assemblages showed 2 geographically correlated clusters of sites, plus 1 cluster that contained 2 sites near Brisbane and 1 approximately at a distance of 1,000 km. There was no strong effect of host age or sex on number of mite species carried. Horizontal transfer of feather mites by hippoboscid flies, in addition to physical contact between hosts, may play a role in homogenizing symbiont assemblages within populations.

You do not currently have access to this content.