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Number of hummingbird visits determines flower mite abundance on hummingbird feeders

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Members of several genera of mites from the family Melicharidae (Mesostigmata) use hummingbirds as transport host to move from flower to flower, where they feed on pollen and nectar. The factors that influence hummingbird flower mite abundance on host plant flowers are not currently known. Here we tested whether hummingbird flower mite abundance on an artificial nectar source is determined by number of hummingbird visits, nectar energy content or species richness of visiting hummingbirds. We conducted experiments employing hummingbird feeders with sucrose solutions of low, medium, and high energy concentrations, placed in a xeric shrubland. In the first experiment, we recorded the number of visiting hummingbirds and the number of visiting hummingbird species, as well as the abundance of hummingbird flower mites on each feeder. Feeders with the highest sucrose concentration had the most hummingbird visits and the highest flower mite abundances; however, there was no significant effect of hummingbird species richness on mite abundance. In the second experiment, we recorded flower mite abundance on feeders after we standardized the number of hummingbird visits to them. Abundance of flower mites did not differ significantly between feeders when we controlled for hummingbird visits. Our results suggest that nectar energy concentration determines hummingbird visits, which in turn determines flower mite abundance in our feeders. Our results do not support the hypothesis that mites descend from hummingbird nostrils more on richer nectar sources; however, it does not preclude the possibility that flower mites select for nectar concentration at other spatial and temporal scales.

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We thank the Universidad Autónoma del Estado de Hidalgo for its support, Carlos Lara for his comments during the beginning of this project, Nico Bluthgen for suggesting the second experiment, M. Isabel Herrera Juárez and Maria de los Angeles Soto Pineda for field assistance, Richard Feldman for comments on an early version of this paper, Gilberto José de Moraes, Departmento of Entomología e Acarologia, Escola Superior de Agricultura ‘Luiz de Queiroz’, University of Sao Paulo, Piracicaba, Sao Paulo, Brazil for mite identification, and Richard Feldman and Margaret Schroeder for their help improving the English. UML thanks Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnología for Grant No. 266931. We are also grateful to Fondos Mixtos-Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnología Hidalgo project 191908 ‘Diversidad Biológica del Estado de Hidalgo (tercera etapa)’, and Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnología project 161702 ‘Mejoramiento y actualización de la infraestructura experimental para proporcionar soporte a los posgrados en Biodiversidad y Conservación de la Universidad Autónoma del Estado de Hidalgo’ for their generous support.

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Correspondence to Raúl Ortiz-Pulido.

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All applicable international, national, and/or institutional guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed. This article does not contain any studies with human participants performed by any of the authors.

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Márquez-Luna, U., Vázquez González, M.M., Castellanos, I. et al. Number of hummingbird visits determines flower mite abundance on hummingbird feeders. Exp Appl Acarol 69, 403–411 (2016).

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