Host range and community structure of avian nest parasites in the genus Philornis (Diptera: Muscidae) on the island of Trinidad

Mariana Bulgarella, George E. Heimpel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Parasite host range can be influenced by physiological, behavioral, and ecological factors. Combining data sets on host-parasite associations with phylogenetic information of the hosts and the parasites involved can generate evolutionary hypotheses about the selective forces shaping host range. Here, we analyzed associations between the nest-parasitic flies in the genus Philornis and their host birds on Trinidad. Four of ten Philornis species were only reared from one species of bird. Of the parasite species with more than one host bird species, P. falsificus was the least specific and P. deceptivus the most specific attacking only Passeriformes. Philornis flies in Trinidad thus include both specialists and generalists, with varying degrees of specificity within the generalists. We used three quantities to more formally compare the host range of Philornis flies: the number of bird species attacked by each species of Philornis, a phylogenetically informed host specificity index (Poulin and Mouillot's STD), and a branch length-based STD. We then assessed the phylogenetic signal of these measures of host range for 29 bird species. None of these measures showed significant phylogenetic signal, suggesting that clades of Philornis did not differ significantly in their ability to exploit hosts. We also calculated two quantities of parasite species load for the birds - the parasite species richness, and a variant of the STD index based on nodes rather than on taxonomic levels - and assessed the signal of these measures on the bird phylogeny. We did not find significant phylogenetic signal for the parasite species load or the node-based STD index. Finally, we calculated the parasite associations for all bird pairs using the Jaccard index and regressed these similarity values against the number of nodes in the phylogeny separating bird pairs. This analysis showed that Philornis on Trinidad tend to feed on closely related bird species more often than expected by chance. Host range, parasite species load, and community similarity are important descriptors of host-parasite interactions. We used a phylogenetic approach to explore host-associations between birds and their Philornis parasites on the island of Trinidad.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3695-3703
Number of pages9
JournalEcology and Evolution
Issue number17
StatePublished - Sep 1 2015

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 Published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.


  • Bird-parasite interactions
  • Community similarity
  • Host specificity
  • Jaccard index
  • Philornis
  • Trinidad


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