Fish parasite community structure: a functional and phylogenetic approach (FishParCS) is a research project funded by the Ministry of Economy and Competitivity (Spain) launched in Jan. 2016. This blog will disseminate its main goals, challenges and achievements to both the scientific community and to the public.
Understanding the processes governing the distribution and assembly of biological diversity is one of the major challenges in biogeography and macroecology, and it is a prerequisite for successfully predicting global change impacts on biodiversity as a whole. Classically efforts set to study assembly rules have resorted to alpha diversity metrics as the way to characterize the communities, but this approach has important limitations because it does not consider the functional characteristics and phylogenetic relationships of the coexisting species. The quantification of diversity based on the relative abundance of functional traits (functional diversity) or on evolutionary units (phylogenetic diversity) can provide deeper and new insights into the assemblage mechanisms of ecological communities. The main goal of the present project is to reexamine the patterns of community assembly of parasites from this new, holistic functional and phylogenetic perspective. By focusing at different geographical and temporal scales across a range of parasite communities, we expect to gain new and broad insights into the rules and mechanisms governing the co-existence of fish parasite species in the marine realm. Eventually this research will serve to underpin the conceptual basis of parasite functional ecology and contribute to the development of biodiversity science in general. The specific aims of the proposal are: (1) Obtain metrics describing species, functional and phylogenetic diversity. (2) Characterize how diversity of fish parasite communities is structured at different organizational scales. (3) Compare cross-scale diversity structure among host species. (4) Evaluate the influence of temporal and spatially structured effects on the diversity of parasite communities. (5) Compare species, functional and phylogenetic parasite diversity between parasite communities of local and introduced so-iuy mullets. (6) Identify the main assemblage processes in fish parasite communities. The present proposal affords three particularly innovative aspects: First, it will study the diversity structure of parasite communities in an unprecedented way. The geography of parasitism is attracting increasing attention in the context of emerging diseases, biological invasions and environmental change, but the functional and phylogenetic dimensions of diversity have been grossly overlooked. Second, we intend to evaluate the impact of the introduction of the soi-uy mullet in the Black Sea under a new light. We believe that our analyses in terms of functional / phylogenetic diversity could open new avenues of research focusing on how host and parasite introductions perturb the functional diversity of the invaded area. Third, functional / phylogenetic approaches provide a powerful comparative tool that will be fully explored in the proposal. The proposal includes six host species, although four of them are related phylogenetically, grey mullets, red mullets and cod are still very different and the proposal aims at providing general principles, or at least likely mechanisms, governing the assemblage of fish parasite communities at different geographical scales.