Faculty Publications

Host Behaviour Drives Parasite Genetics At Multiple Geographic Scales: Population Genetics Of The Chewing Louse, Thomomydoecus Minor

Document Type



cophylogeny, host, inbreeding, parasite population genetics

Journal/Book/Conference Title

Molecular Ecology





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Pocket gophers and their symbiotic chewing lice form a host-parasite assemblage known for a high degree of cophylogeny, thought to be driven by life history parameters of both host and parasite that make host switching difficult. However, little work to date has focused on determining whether these life histories actually impact louse populations at the very fine scale of louse infrapopulations (individuals on a single host) at the same or at nearby host localities. We used microsatellite and mtDNA sequence data to make comparisons of chewing-louse (Thomomydoecus minor) population subdivision over time and over geographic space where there are different potential amounts of host interaction surrounding a zone of contact between two hybridizing pocket-gopher subspecies. We found that chewing lice had high levels of population isolation consistent with a paucity of horizontal transmission even at the very fine geographic scale of a single alfalfa field. We also found marked genetic discontinuity in louse populations corresponding with host subspecies and little, if any, admixture in the louse genetic groups even though the lice are closely related. The correlation of louse infrapopulation differentiation with host interaction at multiple scales, including across a discontinuity in pocket-gopher habitat, suggests that host behaviour is the primary driver of parasite genetics. This observation makes sense in light of the life histories of both chewing lice and pocket gophers and provides a powerful explanation for the well-documented pattern of parallel cladogenesis in pocket gophers and chewing lice.


Department of Biology

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