Data from gene sequences and morphological structures were collected for the gull feather lice, Saemundssonia lari, Quadraceps punctatus, and Q. ornatus, parasitizing Larus crassirostris and L. schistisagus. Saemundssonia lari was collected from both gull species, and no detectable morphological and genetic differences were found between lice collected from the two different hosts. In contrast, Q. punctatus was only collected from L. crassirostris, whereas Q. ornatus was only collected from L. schistisagus. The two Quadraceps species were genetically highly divergent, and body-size differences corresponding to the gull's body size (Harrison's rule) were also detected between them. Both Quadraceps species were collected from the interbarb of the remex or rectrix, and a match in body size between the louse and the interbarb space may be important in escape from host preening defenses. In contrast, Saemundssonia is a head louse, inhabiting the finer feathers of the head and neck, which the bird cannot preen. A close match to host body size may be less important for lice in the head microhabitat. The differences in the pattern of host-specificity between Saemundssonia and Quadraceps on the two focal host species of this study were probably due to their different microhabitat preferences. More broadly, comparisons of the gene sequences of S. lari and Q. punctatus to those from other gull hosts showed that genetically almost undifferentiated populations of both species were distributed on wide range of gull species. Frequent interspecific hybridization of gulls is one possible factor that may allow these lice to maintain gene flow across multiple host species.
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Vol. 31 • No. 6