Environmental Variation Mediates the Prevalence and Co-Occurrence of Parasites in the Common Lizard, Zootoca vivipara

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© 2019 The Author(s). Background: Hosts and their parasites are under reciprocal selection, leading to coevolution. However, parasites depend not only on a host, but also on the host's environment. In addition, a single host species is rarely infested by a single species of parasite and often supports multiple species (i.e., multi-infestation). Although the arms race between a parasite and its host has been well studied, few data are available on how environmental conditions may influence the process leading to multiple infestations. In this study, we examine whether: (1) environmental factors including altitude, temperature, vegetation cover, human disturbance, and grazing by livestock affect the prevalence of two types of ectoparasites, mites and ticks, on their host (the common lizard, Zootoca vivipara) and (2) competition is evident between mites and ticks. Results: We found the probability of mite infestation increased with altitude and vegetation cover, but decreased with human disturbance and presence of livestock. In contrast, the probability of tick infestation was inversely associated with the same factors. Individuals with low body condition and males had higher mite loads. However, this pattern was not evident for tick loads. The results from a structural equation model revealed that mites and ticks indirectly and negatively affected each other's infestation probability through an interaction involving the environmental context. We detected a direct negative association between mites and ticks only when considering estimates of parasite load. This suggests that both mites and ticks could attach to the same host, but once they start to accumulate, only one of them takes advantage. Conclusion: The environment of hosts has a strong effect on infestation probabilities and parasite loads of mites and ticks. Autecological differences between mites and ticks, as indicated by their opposing patterns along environmental gradients, may explain the pattern of weak contemporary interspecific competition. Our findings emphasize the importance of including environmental factors and the natural history of each parasite species in studies of host-parasite coevolution.