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Interactions between species and the structure of helminth communities

  • R. POULIN (a1)

The role of interspecific interactions in the structure of gastrointestinal helminth communities has been at the core of most research in parasite community ecology, yet there is no consensus regarding their general importance. There have been two different approaches to the study of species interactions in helminths. The first one consists of measuring the responses of helminth species in concomitant infections, preferably in laboratory experiments. Any change in numbers of parasite individuals or in their use of niche space, compared with what is observed in single infections, provides solid evidence that the species are interacting. The second approach can only provide indirect, circumstantial evidence. It consists in contrasting observed patterns either in the distribution of species richness of infracommunities from wild hosts, in their species composition, or in pairwise associations between helminth species among infracommunities, with the random patterns predicted by appropriate null models. In many cases, observed patterns do not depart from predicted ones; when they do, alternative explanations are usually as plausible as invoking the effect of interactions among helminth species. The present evidence suggests that the role of species interactions in helminth community structure is often negligible, but that it must always be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

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