The high relevance of host‐switching for the diversification of highly host‐specific symbionts (i.e., those commonly inhabiting a single host species) demands a better understanding of host‐switching dynamics at an ecological scale. Here, we used DNA metabarcoding to study feather mites on passerine birds in Spain, sequencing mtDNA (COI) for 25,540 individual mites (representing 64 species) from 1,130 birds (representing 71 species). Surprisingly, 1,228 (4.8%) mites from 84 (7.4%) birds were found on host species that were not the expected to be a host according to a recent bird–feather mite associations catalog. Unexpected associations were widespread across studied mite (40.6%) and bird (43.7%) species and showed smaller average infrapopulation sizes than typical associations. Unexpected mite species colonized hosts being distantly related to the set of their usual hosts, but with similar body size. The network of bird–mite associations was modular (i.e., some groups of bird and mite species tended to be more associated with each other than with the others), with 75.9% of the unexpected associations appearing within the module of the typical hosts of the mite species. Lastly, 68.4% of mite species found on unexpected hosts showed signatures of genetic differentiation, and we found evidence for reproduction or the potential for it in many of the unexpected associations. Results show host colonization as a common phenomenon even for these putatively highly host‐specific symbionts. Thus, host‐switching by feather mites, rather than a rare phenomenon, appears as a relatively frequent phenomenon shaped by ecological filters such as host morphology and is revealed as a fundamental component for a dynamic coevolutionary and codiversification scenario.
Parasites and other symbionts are crucial components of ecosystems, regulating host populations and supporting food webs. However, most symbiont systems, especially those involving commensals and mutualists, are relatively poorly understood. In this study, we have investigated the nature of the symbiotic relationship between birds and their most abundant and diverse ectosymbionts: the vane‐dwelling feather mites. For this purpose, we studied the diet of feather mites using two complementary methods. First, we used light microscopy to examine the gut contents of 1,300 individual feather mites representing 100 mite genera (18 families) from 190 bird species belonging to 72 families and 19 orders. Second, we used high‐throughput sequencing (HTS) and DNA metabarcoding to determine gut contents from 1,833 individual mites of 18 species inhabiting 18 bird species. Results showed fungi and potentially bacteria as the main food resources for feather mites (apart from potential bird uropygial gland oil). Diatoms and plant matter appeared as rare food resources for feather mites. Importantly, we did not find any evidence of feather mites feeding upon bird resources (e.g., blood, skin) other than potentially uropygial gland oil. In addition, we found a high prevalence of both keratinophilic and pathogenic fungal taxa in the feather mite species examined. Altogether, our results shed light on the long‐standing question of the nature of the relationship between birds and their vane‐dwelling feather mites, supporting previous evidence for a commensalistic–mutualistic role of feather mites, which are revealed as likely fungivore–microbivore–detritivore symbionts of bird feathers.
In Mol Ecol,
Highly host-specific symbionts are very rarely found except with their typical host species. Although switches to new hosts are rare and difficult to detect, a switch to a host phylogenetically distant from the original one (a ‘major host switch’) could allow diversification of the symbionts onto the new host lineage. The consequences of such major host switches on the diversification of highly host-specific symbionts of animals have rarely been explored. Here, we examine the host specificity of vane-dwelling feather mites, a group that shows strong specificity, together with their host-switching dynamics and the consequences of major host switches for their diversification.
In Glob Ecol Biogeogr,
Host-shift speciation and cospeciation are the two major processes driving symbiont macroevolutionary diversification. Cospeciation is expected to be frequent in vertically transmitted and host-specific symbionts, and leads to congruent host-symbiont phylogenies. However, the cophylogenetic dynamics of many groups of highly specialized host-specific symbionts is largely unstudied. Thus, the relevance of cospeciation vs. host-shift speciation remains largely unknown. Here, we investigated this question by performing the largest cophylogenetic study of feather mites to date, using both distance and event-based cophylogenetic methods. For these analyses, we inferred phylogenies based on all protein coding genes of the mitochondrial genome of Proctophyllodes and Trouessartia feather mite species living on European passerine birds. Results show high incongruence among bird and feather mite phylogenies, because of extensive host-switching. We conclude that host-shift speciation, rather than cospeciation, may be the main driver of symbiont diversification even for highly specialized symbionts with low host-switching potential.
In Mol Phylogenet Evol,