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Intraspecific variability and sympatria in closely related chigger mite species of the genus Hirsutiella (Acari, Trombiculidae)

A.A. Stekolnikov

Parazitologiya, 37(4): 281-297 (2003) (In Russian, English summary).


Intraspecific variability in three closely related chigger mite species of the genus Hirsutiella Schluger et Vysotzkaya, 1970, H. steineri (Kepka, 1966), H. llogorensis (Daniel, 1960), and H. alpina Stekolnikov, 2001 has been studied based on materials collected in Caucasus and Turkey. It is established that both H. steineri and H. llogorensis include Western Caucasian and Asian forms, the first one being larger than the second one. Western Caucasian samples of H. steineri are also split into large and small forms. The large form inhabits screes with larvae occurring mainly on snow voles, and the small form inhabits meadows and forests with larvae parasitizing snow voles as well as mice of the genus Apodemus and pine voles. Asian population of H. steineri include small low-mountain form which is hard to distinguish from H. llogorensis. In the light of the new data on variability, morphological border between these two species are specified. Correlations between some characters and altitude above sea level are shown within the Western Caucasian and Asian forms of both species, and also in H. alpina. All the three species can occur together on the same individual hosts, but they have different sets of main hosts and different distribution among biotopes in the area of sympatria. The border between H. steineri and H. llogorensis in the places of sympatria can be indistinct owing to the presence of small ecological forms of H. steineri. Our results give a basis for the construction of alternative hypotheses concerning the processes of speciation in trombiculids. Chigger species could be formed in allopatric way, on the base of such geographical forms, as Western and Asian forms of the Caucasian Hirsutiella species, but they could also be formed in sympatric way, distributing among neighbouring biotopes (e.g., screes and meadows, or screes and forests), as large and small forms of Western Caucasian H. steineri do.

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