The “condition-specific competition hypothesis” proposes that coexistence of 2 species is possible when spatial or temporal variations in environmental conditions exist and each species responds differently to those conditions. The distribution of different species of feather mites on their hosts is known to be affected by intrinsic host factors such as structure of feathers and friction among feathers during flight, but there is also evidence that external factors such as humidity and temperature can affect mite distribution. Some feather mites have the capacity to move through the plumage rather rapidly, and within-host variation in intensity of sunlight could be one of the cues involved in these active displacements. We analyzed both the within- and between-feather spatial distribution of 2 mite species, Trouessartia bifurcata and Dolichodectes edwardsi, that coexist in flight feathers of the moustached warbler Acrocephalus melanopogon. A complex spatial segregation between the 2 species was observed at 3 spatial levels, i.e., “feather surfaces,” “between feathers,” and “within feathers.” Despite certain overlapping distribution among feathers, T. bifurcata dominated proximal and medial regions on dorsal faces, while D. edwardsi preferred disto-ventral feather areas. An experiment to check the behavioral response of T. bifurcata to sunlight showed that mites responded to light exposure by approaching the feather bases and even leaving its dorsal face. Spatial heterogeneity across the 3 analyzed levels, together with response to light and other particular species adaptations, may have played a role in the coexistence and segregation of feather mites competing for space and food in passerine birds.
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Vol. 97 • No. 2