Latitudinal Gradients of Parasite Richness: A Review and New Insights from Helminths of Cricetid Rodents

4 February 2019

Preisser, Whitney

The latitudinal diversity gradient (LDG), or the trend of higher species richness at lower latitudes, has been well documented in multiple groups of free-living organisms. Investigations of the LDG in parasitic organisms are comparatively scarce. Here, I investigated latitudinal patterns of parasite diversity by reviewing published studies and by conducting a novel investigation of the LDG of helminths (parasitic nematodes, trematodes, and cestodes) of cricetid rodents (Rodentia: Cricetidae). Using host-parasite records from 175 parasite communities and 60 host species, I tested for the presence and direction of a latitudinal pattern of helminth richness. Additionally, I examined four abiotic factors (mean annual temperature, annual precipitation, annual temperature range, and annual precipitation range) and two biotic variables (host body mass and host diet) as potential correlates of parasite richness. The analyses were performed with and without phylogenetic comparative methods, as necessary. In this system, helminths followed the traditional LDG, with increasing species richness with decreasing latitude. Nematode richness appeared to drive this pattern, as cestodes and trematodes exhibited a reverse LDG and no latitudinal pattern, respectively. Overall helminth richness and nematode richness were higher in areas with higher mean annual temperatures, annual precipitation, and annual precipitation ranges and lower annual temperature ranges, characteristics that often typify lower latitudes. Cestode richness was higher in areas of lower mean annual temperatures, annual precipitation, and annual precipitation ranges and higher annual temperature ranges, while trematode richness showed no relationship with climate variables when phylogenetic comparative methods were used. Host diet was significantly correlated with cestode and trematode species richness, while host body mass was significantly correlated with nematode and trematode species richness. Results of this study support a complex association between parasite richness and latitude, and indicate that researchers should carefully consider other factors when trying to understand diversity gradients in parasitic organisms.