We studied reproductive performance in two flea species (Parapulex chephrenis and Xenopsylla ramesis) exploiting either a principal or one of eight auxiliary host species. We predicted that fleas would produce more eggs and adult offspring when exploiting (i) a principal host than an auxiliary host and (ii) an auxiliary host phylogenetically close to a principal host than an auxiliary host phylogenetically distant from a principal host. In both flea species, egg production per female after one feeding and production of new imago after a timed period of an uninterrupted stay on a host differed significantly between host species. In general, egg and/or new imago production in fleas feeding on an auxiliary host was lower than in fleas feeding on the principal host, except for the auxiliary host that was the closest relative of the principal host. When all auxiliary host species were considered, we did not find any significant relationship between either egg or new imago production in fleas exploiting an auxiliary host and phylogenetic distance between this host and the principal host. However, when the analyses were restricted to auxiliary hosts belonging to the same family as the principal host (Muridae), new imago production (for P. chephrenis) or both egg and new imago production (for X. ramesis) in an auxiliary host decreased significantly with an increase in phylogenetic distance between the auxiliary and principal host. Our results demonstrated that a parasite achieves higher fitness in auxiliary hosts that are either the most closely related to or the most distant from its principal host. This may affect host associations of a parasite invading new areas.
© 2012 The Authors. Journal of Evolutionary Biology © 2012 European Society For Evolutionary Biology.