Competition across space : from metacommunities to social body-snatching trematodes

Resetarits, Emlyn Jane
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This dissertation is composed of two sections. The first section focuses on experimentally testing the keystone community concept using protist microcosms. I found that habitat loss can cause structural changes in how communities are assembled, even when diversity measures appear unchanged. This work has important implications for reserves management and conservation efforts. The second section is composed of three chapters on social body-snatching trematodes residing in the California horn snail. First, I investigated the tradeoff between reproduction and defense to determine if social trematode colonies increase their soldier investment in areas of high intraguild predation (IGP). I found that colonies appear to respond to IGP as predicted and do so at the site-level. Second, I conducted a reciprocal transplant experiment to determine if differences in soldier investment are due to phenotypic plasticity. Unfortunately, our results were inconclusive but provided us with valuable information on natural variation in these colonies within an estuary. Finally, I investigated how individual soldier attributes and colony composition might explain a linear competitive dominance hierarchy between six species of social body-snatching trematodes. I found that the dominance hierarchy was not explained by attributes of the colony that we measured. All totaled, there are over 20,000 trematode species, in league with the diversity of social insect groups, like ants. The trematode system is rich with opportunity to study the evolution and ecology of sociality outside of insects.