Host–parasite interactions of rodent hosts and ectoparasite communities from different habitats in Germany
Background Small mammals are important maintenance hosts of ectoparasites as well as reservoir hosts for many arthropod-borne pathogens. In Germany, only a few studies have investigated ectoparasite communities on small mammals in their natural habitats. The aim of this study was to assess the species diversity and parameters influencing the mean intensity and prevalence of macroscopically visible ectoparasites, such as fleas, predatory mites and ticks. Methods A total of 779 small mammals and 3383 ticks were available from earlier investigations for the data analysis of the current study from three differently structured study sites. In addition, fleas and predatory mites were collected from the captured rodents and taxonomically identified. Regression analyses were conducted on the group (ticks/mites/fleas) and species levels using hurdle models for the abundance of ectoparasite groups and a negative binomial model for the abundance of species. Results Nearly 90% of the small mammals analyzed were infested with ectoparasites, with an average of 7.3 specimens per host. Hosts were infested with up to six species of ectoparasites simultaneously. In total, 12 flea, 11 mite and three tick species were detected. Ticks were more prevalent than fleas or mites, with > 80% of the hosts in urban and forest areas hosting ticks and around 60% of hosts presenting fleas, and only 20–40% of hosts presenting mites. Polyparasitism had a statistically significant influence on the prevalence of the investigated tick, mite and flea species, with odds ratios of > 1.0. Trapping location, season and host characteristics had significant influences on some—but not all—of the investigated species. Conclusions The diversity of flea species was unexpectedly high and higher than that reported in comparable studies, which can be explained by the differently structured habitats and regions examined in this study. Polyparasitism was a key influencing factor and had a positive effect on the prevalence and/or abundance of the predominant tick, flea and mite species occurring on small mammals. Season, trapping location, host species and sex of the host species also had an influence on the prevalence and mean intensity of certain, but not all, ectoparasite species.