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Parasite Geography: Exploring Drivers of Parasite Biodiversity Distribution at Species and Community Scales

Sebastian Botero-Cañola, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Parasites comprise an important portion of the biodiversity in the world, and have key roles in many population and ecosystem processes. Given the importance of parasitic species in natural ecosystems and on human welfare, understanding parasite biogeography is a key research goal. In this dissertation, I used novel approaches and datasets to explore the drivers of parasite distribution patterns at two ecological scales. In the first chapter, the distribution in the Nearctic region of the highly pathogenic cestode Echinococcus multilocularis was studied. Using species distribution models, the extension of suitable habitat was predicted for the species under current, and future climatic conditions. An important portion of the Nearctic was found to have suitable conditions for E. multilocularis. Furthermore, exploring the future emission scenarios, the distribution of suitable habitats for the parasite was predicted to increase by 56 to 76 %. In the second chapter, I assessed the effect of including variables describing the assemblage of potential hosts (host species richness and proportion of potential hosts in an assemblage) on the distribution models performance. Evaluation of the model showed that for 14 of 24 species studied, inclusion of the host information resulted in better performing models. Finally, in the third chapter, I explored the parasite distribution at the compound community level. Using museum records of parasites and species accumulation curves, I estimated the species richness of parasites from mammalian hosts through the Nearctic at the ecoregion scale. The presence of a latitudinal diversity gradient as well as the effect of host richness and environmental variables on parasite species richness were assessed. I found a clear support for the existence of a latitudinal diversity gradient in parasites of mammals. Interestingly, a quadratic relation between parasite species richness and host species richness was found. Analyzing parasite species richness and distribution using the approach applied here on other regions and host groups could provide insight in the patterns and drivers of parasite diversity, thus complementing our current understanding of global biodiversity.

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Recommended Citation

Botero-Cañola, Sebastian, "Parasite Geography: Exploring Drivers of Parasite Biodiversity Distribution at Species and Community Scales" (2020). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI28086519.