Forest edges affect ectoparasite infestation patterns of small mammalian hosts in fragmented forests in Madagascar
Habitat loss and fragmentation drive the worldwide depletion of biodiversity. Although it is known that anthropogenic disturbances severely affect host and ecosystem integrity, effects on parasites are largely understudied. This study aims to investigate if and how habitat fragmentation affects the composition of ectoparasite communities on small mammalian hosts in two networks of dry deciduous forest fragments in northwestern Madagascar. Forest sites differing in size, proportion of edge habitat and host density were studied in the Ankarafantsika National Park and in the Mariarano region. A total of 924 individuals of two mouse lemur species, Microcebus murinus (n = 200) and Microcebus ravelobensis (n = 426), and two rodent species, endemic Eliurus myoxinus (n = 114) and introduced Rattus rattus (n = 184), were captured to assess ectoparasite infestations. Ectoparasite prevalence and ectoparasite species richness were statistically related to nine ecological variables applying generalized linear mixed models. Hosts harbored ticks (Haemaphysalis microcebi), mites (Schoutedenichia microcebi, Listrophoroides spp., Laelaptidae gen. spp.) and sucking lice (Lemurpediculus spp., Polyplax sp., Hoplopleuridae gen. sp.). Parasite prevalence differed significantly between host species for all detected parasite taxa. Proximity to the forest edge led to a significant reduction in ectoparasites. Parasite-specific edge effects were observed up to a distance of 750 m from the forest edge. The obtained results imply that habitat fragmentation impacts ectoparasite communities, in particular by negatively affecting temporary parasite species. The results are best explained by an interplay of parasite life cycles, responses to changes in abiotic factors induced by edges and host-specific responses to habitat fragmentation. The negative responses of most studied ectoparasite taxa to forest edges and habitat fragmentation demonstrate their ecological vulnerability that may eventually threaten the integrity of ecosystems and potentially impact ectoparasite biodiversity worldwide.