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Compositional and phylogenetic nestedness of host assemblages exploited by generalist ectoparasites across their geographic ranges: drivers and associations with ectoparasite traits.

We investigated compositional and phylogenetic nestedness in the host assemblages of 26 host-generalist fleas across regions within the Palearctic. We asked the following questions: (i) are host assemblages exploited by a flea species compositionally or phylogenetically nested (=C-nested and P-nested, respectively) across regions?; (ii) if yes, what are the processes that generate nestedness, and does phylogenetic nestedness follow the same processes as compositional nestedness?; and (iii) are the biological traits of a flea species associated with its host assemblages' degree of nestedness? Nestedness was calculated for matrices with rows ordered either by decreasing region area (=a-matrices) or increasing distance from the centre of a flea's geographic range (d-matrices). Significant C-nestedness was found in either a- (three fleas) or d-matrices (three fleas) or both (10 fleas). Significant P-nestedness was detected in either a- (three fleas) or d-matrices (four fleas) or both (two fleas). In some but not other species, P-nestedness followed C-nestedness. The probability of C-nestedness to be significant, as well as its degree for d-matrices, was associated with a flea's morphoecological traits, whereas this was not the case for either a-matrices or the P-nestedness for either type of ordered matrices. We conclude that compositional, but not phylogenetic, nestedness is (i) generated by similar mechanisms in many flea species and (ii) may be simultaneously driven by different mechanisms in the same flea. In contrast, mechanisms promoting phylogenetic nestedness differ between flea species and seem to act separately.

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