Host assemblage and environment shape β-diversity of freshwater parasites across diverse taxa at a continental scale

Boris W. Berkhout, Michael K. Borregaard, Roland Brandl, Martin Brändle, D. Matthias Dehling, Christian Hof, Robert Poulin, David W. Thieltges

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)


Aim: Positive relationships in compositional similarity between consumer and resource assemblages are widely known in free-living taxa, but less is known about parasites and their hosts. We investigated whether congruent patterns of assemblage similarity across diverse taxa of hosts and parasites exist at a continental scale and quantified the relative importance of host assemblages and environmental variables in shaping these relationships. 

Location: European freshwaters. Major taxa studied: The hosts were fishes, birds and mammals. The parasites were monogeneans, trematodes and copepods. 

Methods: We extracted distribution data from the Limnofauna Europaea for three aquatic parasite taxa and for three vertebrate taxa functioning as their definitive hosts across 25 biogeographical regions in Europe. First, we investigated β-diversity congruence patterns between parasite and host assemblages, corrected for the distance between regions using partial Mantel tests. Second, we assessed the relative importance of host assemblages and environmental variables in shaping parasite β-diversity patterns using generalized dissimilarity models (GDMs). 

Results: Spatial community dissimilarities of regional parasite assemblages were positively correlated with those of their respective host assemblages in all five parasite–host groups studied. The GDMs highlighted the equal importance of both host assemblages and environmental variables in shaping parasite assemblages. However, the direct effect of host assemblages was relatively small compared with the effect of environmental factors mediated by host assemblages. Climatic parameters (precipitation and temperature) contributed most to the variance explained by environmental variables. 

Main conclusions: Our analyses indicate that spatially congruent patterns of assemblage similarity exist between parasites and their hosts at a continental scale. They also suggest that this congruence is driven not only by host assemblages but also by environmental (climatic) variables, either directly or indirectly via their effects on host assemblages. Thus, environmental variables are important for mapping, forecasting and management of parasites at a geographical scale.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)38-49
Number of pages12
JournalGlobal Ecology and Biogeography
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • aquatic parasites
  • aquatic vertebrates
  • biodiversity congruence patterns
  • dispersion
  • distribution
  • generalized dissimilarity modelling
  • macroparasites
  • Mantel test
  • β-diversity

Cite this