Biology ETDs

Publication Date

Spring 4-12-2022


The geographical ranges of many mammals and their associated parasites are dynamic. Comprehensive documentation of these communities over time provides a foundation for interpreting how changing environmental conditions, driven by accelerating climate change, other anthropogenic disturbances, and natural events may influence host-parasite interactions. Fleas (Order Siphonaptera) are obligate, hematophagous parasites of birds and mammals with medical interest due to their role in transmitting pathogens. From 2016 to 2019, we sampled the small mammal and associated flea communities in El Malpais National Conservation Area (El Malpais) in Cibola County, New Mexico. Among 898 mammalian specimens, 925 fleas representing 29 species were collected from 18 host species. Pleochaetis exilis, was the most abundant flea species comprising 27% of the total fleas collected whereas Aetheca wagneri was the most prevalent flea species parasitizing 8% of the community sampled. Across a total of 284 hosts recorded with fleas, Aetheca wagneri, Malaraeus eremicus, and Peromyscopsylla hesperomys adelpha parasitized the most host species (n = 6 each). The northern grasshopper mouse (Onychomys leucogaster), a rodent highly implicated in plague dynamics, was host for the highest number of flea species (n = 15), followed by Peromyscus truei (n = 10). Our aims are to a) describe the flea-mammal assemblage of a central New Mexico site, creating a baseline for diversity against which changing patterns of association can be assessed over time; b) identify new host associations; and c) examine infestation parameters including the relationships of flea prevalence and mean abundance to host sex, host abundance, and seasonality.

Project Sponsors

Bureau of Land Management




ectoparasite, host-parasite community, Southwest, fleas, mammals

Document Type


Degree Name


Level of Degree


Department Name

UNM Biology Department

First Committee Member (Chair)

Joseph Cook

Second Committee Member

Jonathan Dunnum

Third Committee Member

Helen Wearing

Included in

Biology Commons