Symbionts (i.e., parasites, mutualists, and commensals that interact intimately with their hosts) have a unique mode of life that has attracted the attention of ecologists and evolutionary biologists for centuries. As a result of this attention, these disciplines have produced a mature body of literature on these interactions. In contrast, the discipline of symbiont conservation is still in a foundational stage. Further, given the particularities of the life-history of symbiont species, some problems may arise when directly applying knowledge from Conservation Biology of free-living species to symbiont conservation. Here, we aim to adapt existing ecological and evolutionary knowledge of symbionts to the perspective of biological conservation. Specifically, we first propose a new statistic “cophylogenetic extinction rate” (Ec) that uses data from event-based cophylogenetic analyses and might be informative to assess relative symbiont extinction risks. Then, we outline aspects of ecology or evolution that may be relevant to consider for assessing symbiont vulnerability to extinction. Finally, we propose potential future research to further develop estimation of symbiont extinction risk from cophylogenetic analyses and continue the integration of this existing knowledge into future symbiont conservation studies and practices.
Organisms vary in their dispersal abilities, and these differences can have important biological consequences, such as impacting the likelihood of hybridization events. However, the factors shaping the frequency of hybridization are still poorly understood, and therefore how dispersal ability affects the opportunities for hybridization is still unknown. Here, using the ecological replicate system of dove wing and body lice (Insecta: Phthiraptera), we show that species with higher dispersal abilities exhibited increased genomic signatures of introgression. Specifically, we found a higher proportion of introgressed genomic reads and more reticulated phylogenetic networks in wing lice, the louse group with higher dispersal abilities. Our results illustrate how differences in dispersal ability can drive differences in the extent of introgression through hybridization. The results from this study represent an important step for understanding the factors driving hybridization. We expect our approach will stimulate future studies on the ecological factors shaping hybridization to further understand this important process.
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.
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.
Glob Ecol Biogeogr,