Niche Partitioning of Feather Mites within a Seabird Host, Calonectris borealis

Abstract : According to classic niche theory, species can coexist in heterogeneous environments by reducing interspecific competition via niche partitioning, e.g. trophic or spatial partitioning. However, support for the role of competition on niche partitioning remains controversial. Here, we tested for spatial and trophic partitioning in feather mites, a diverse and abundant group of arthropods. We focused on the two dominant mite species, Microspalax brevipes and Zachvatkinia ovata, inhabiting flight feathers of the Cory's shearwater, Calonectris borealis. We performed mite counts across and within primary and tail feathers on free-living shearwaters breeding on an oceanic island (Gran Canaria, Canary Islands). We then investigated trophic relationships between the two mite species and the host using stable isotope analyses of carbon and nitrogen on mite tissues and potential host food sources. The distribution of the two mite species showed clear spatial segregation among feathers; M. brevipes showed high preference for the central wing primary feathers, whereas Z. ovata was restricted to the two outermost primaries. Morphological differences between M. brevipes and Z. ovata support an adaptive basis for the spatial segregation of the two mite species. However, the two mites overlap in some central primaries and statistical modeling showed that Z. ovata tends to outcompete M. brevipes. Isotopic analyses indicated similar isotopic values for the two mite species and a strong correlation in carbon signatures between mites inhabiting the same individual host suggesting that diet is mainly based on shared host-associated resources. Among the four candidate tissues examined (blood, feather remains, skin remains and preen gland oil), we conclude that the diet is most likely dominated by preen gland oil, while the contribution of exogenous material to mite diets is less marked. Our results indicate that ongoing competition for space and resources plays a central role in structuring feather mite communities. They also illustrate that symbiotic infracommunities are excellent model systems to study trophic ecology, and can improve our understanding of mechanisms of niche differentiation and species coexistence.
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Laura Stefan, Elena Gómez-Díaz, Eric Elguero, Heather Proctor, Karen Mccoy, et al.. Niche Partitioning of Feather Mites within a Seabird Host, Calonectris borealis. PLoS ONE, Public Library of Science, 2015, 10 (12), pp.e0144728. ⟨10.1371/journal.pone.0144728⟩. ⟨hal-02417852⟩

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