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Variation of parasitism patterns in bats during hibernation: the effect of host species, resources, health status, and hibernation period

Variation of parasitism patterns in bats during hibernation: the effect of host species, resources, health status, and hibernation period

Parasitology Research 115(10): 3767-3778

ISSN/ISBN: 0932-0113

PMID: 27240839

DOI: 10.1007/s00436-016-5138-7

During critical periods of food shortage or variable climatic conditions, the choice of an appropriate host can increase the survival and reproductive performance of parasites. In turn, one of the unique adaptations to periodical food shortages is hibernation, which is often found among insectivorous bat species in the temperate zone. While hibernating, bats are completely defenseless against both predators and ectoparasites, their immune and endocrine systems are diminished, and survival is dependent on the accumulated fat reserves. Differences in the health status or in the rate of consumption of the resources might also explain species-specific differences in ectoparasite abundance, especially between closely related host species, such as the greater mouse-eared bat (Myotis myotis) and the lesser mouse-eared bat (M. blythii) during hibernation. In the present study, the abundance of two ecologically distinct (summer and winter) types of ectoparasites was examined in terms of its influence on the body condition and hemoglobin content of the two host species. The effects of demographic factors, such as host sex and age, were also investigated. Despite a similar pattern of deteriorating body condition and hemoglobin concentration, M. myotis was more parasitized than was M. blythii. The marked decrease in hemoglobin content in first-year females of both host species correlated with the highest parasite load and indicated a risk of anemia. At the intraspecific level, ectoparasite abundance was not correlated with body condition (resources), but it negatively affected hemoglobin content; however, this mostly concerned M. blythii, which had a lower parasite load. Therefore, it can be concluded that interspecific differences in ectoparasite abundance may result from parasites selecting the host species that is less sensitive to their activity. In turn, in summer ectoparasites, the preference for female hosts is probably attributable to the likelihood of reinfection rather than to an effect of host resources or health status. The absence of sex-based preferences in winter ectoparasites could be explained by equal host availability.

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