Water mites of Unionicola spp. are common parasites of freshwater mussels as adults, living on the gills, or mantle and foot of their hosts and using these tissues as sites of oviposition. The present study addresses specialization among North American Unionicola mussel-mites using 2 measures of host specificity: (1) the number of host species used by a species of mite; and (2) a measure that considers the taxonomic distinctness of the hosts utilized by mites, weighted for their prevalence in the different hosts. Results of this study indicate the Unionicola spp. mussel-mites are highly host specific, with most species occurring in association with 1 or 2 species of hosts. If 2 or more host species are utilized, they are typically members of the same genus. These data are consistent with studies examining the dispersal abilities and host recognition behavior for members of the group. When the average values of host specificity for Unionicola subgenera were mapped on a phylogenetic tree for these taxa, a clade comprised of gill mites appeared to be more host specific than a clade consisting of mantle mites. There were, however, no apparent patterns of host specificity within each of the clades. Differences in specificity between the 2 lineages may reflect either a long evolutionary history that gill mites have had with host mussels or the intense competition among gill mites for oviposition sites within unionid mussels, leading to increased host specialization.

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