Authors marked in boldface are EvolEcol members.
Szentiványi T, Vincze O and Estók P 2017. Density-dependent sex ratio and sex-specific preference for host traits in parasitic bat flies. Parasites & Vectors 10: 405. pdf
Deviation of sex ratios from unity in wild animal populations has recently been demonstrated to be far more prevalent than previously thought. Ectoparasites are prominent examples of this bias, given that their sex ratios vary from strongly female- to strongly male-biased both among hosts and at the metapopulation level. To date our knowledge is very limited on how and why these biased sex ratios develop. It was suggested that sex ratio and sex-specific aggregation of ectoparasites might be shaped by the ecology, behaviour and physiology of both hosts and their parasites. Here we investigate a highly specialised, hematophagous bat fly species with strong potential to move between hosts, arguably limited inbreeding effects, off-host developmental stages and extended parental care.
We collected a total of 796 Nycteribia kolenatii bat flies from 147 individual bats using fumigation and subsequently determined their sex. We report a balanced sex ratio at the metapopulation level and a highly variable sex ratio among infrapopulations ranging from 100% male to 100% female. We show that infrapopulation sex ratio is not random and is highly correlated with infrapopulation size. Sex ratio is highly male biased in small and highly female biased in large infrapopulations. We show that this pattern is most probably the result of sex-specific preference in bat flies for host traits, most likely combined with a higher mobility of males. We demonstrate that female bat flies exert a strong preference for high host body condition and female hosts, while the distribution of males is more even.
Our results suggest that locally biased sex ratios can develop due to sex-specific habitat preference of parasites. Moreover, it is apparent that the sex of both hosts and parasites need to be accounted for when a better understanding of host-parasite systems is targeted.