Water mites of Unionicola species are common symbionts of freshwater mussels, living on the gills or mantle and foot of their hosts and using these tissues as sites of oviposition. Although surveys of the mite fauna among North American mussels suggest that these mites represent highly diverse assemblages, there are currently no quantitative data characterizing Unionicola species diversity among their molluscan hosts. The present study addresses patterns of species richness of Unionicola assemblages from freshwater mussels, including the relationship between richness and host specificity among these mites. Results from this study indicate that mite species richness increased significantly with an increase in the number of host individuals sampled. When corrected for sampling effort, there was a positive relationship between host size and mite species richness. Results from this study also reveal a significant relationship between mite species richness and the geographical distribution of host mussels. Overall, the patterns of species richness observed for this study are consistent with those examining the richness of parasitic helminth communities. Because the phylogenetic history of host taxa can have a significant influence on patterns of parasite species richness, studies that correct for the phylogenetic history among host mussels will be required to better understand the role that evolutionary processes have in determining Unionicola species richness. The present study did not indicate a significant relationship between species richness and host specificity and, in not doing so, suggests that the dispersal ability of mites may also play a role in influencing Unionicola species richness. The host recognition behavior and swimming abilities for a larger sample of mites will be required to substantiate this hypothesis.

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