Seasonality of fleas (Siphonaptera) may be due to species competition, prompting the idea that flea species partition temperature, along with correlated variables such as moisture (thermal-niche partitioning hypothesis). I compared the fleas of five rodent-flea communities described from the literature for thermal-niche optima by fitting non-linear LRF (Lobry–Rosso–Flandrois) curves to examine whether flea species in a community show distinct, partitioned thermal niches. LRF curves estimate physiological parameters of temperature minimum, optimum, maximum, and maximum abundance, and facilitate comparison between species by summarizing seasonal data. Flea-communities were on Nearctic Southern flying squirrel (Glaucomys volans volans), Richardson's ground-squirrel (Urocitellus richardsonii), North American deer-mouse (Peromyscus maniculatus), and Palearctic Midday jird (Meriones meridianus), and Wagner's gerbil (Dipodillus dasyurus). Flea communities appeared to show seasonality consistent with thermal-niche partitioning. Several flea families and genera had characteristic thermal niches: Ceratophyllidae had broad tolerance to extreme temperature, Leptopsyllidae (one species in this study) to cold, and Pulicidae to hot. In contrast, at the local, species level, climatic speciation could be significant in flea diversification. Non-competition hypotheses (environmental filtering, neutrality) require testing, too. Thermal-niche partitioning may increase flea species richness on hosts and could occur in other insect and plant communities. Implications for biodiversity conservation and disease ecology under global warming are wide-ranging.
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Vol. 47 • No. 2