Phenology determines seasonal variation in ectoparasite loads in a natural insect population
1. The extent to which individuals are parasitised is a function of exposure to parasites and the immune response, which in ectotherms may be associated with temperature.
2. We test the hypothesis that seasonal variation in ectoparasite burden is driven by temperature using an extensive mark-release-recapture study of adult Coenagrion puella (L.) (Zygoptera) as a model system. Mite counts were taken both at capture and on a subset of subsequent recaptures over two entire, consecutive breeding seasons.
3. Emergence date was the most significant factor in determining individual differences in mite burden, and mean counts for individuals emerging on the same days showed strong unimodal relationships with time of season. Subsequent recounting of mites on a subset of individuals showed that patterns of loss of mites were similar between seasons.
4. While temperature did not significantly affect mite burdens within seasons and ectoparasite prevalence was very similar across the two seasons, intensity of infection and rate of mite gain in unparasitised individuals were significantly higher in the cooler season.
5. We demonstrate that, while temperature may modulate the invertebrate immune response, this modulation does not manifest in variations in mite burdens in natural populations.