We studied the success of fleas, Synosternus cleopatrae and Xenopsylla ramesis, in switching to a novel host by establishing experimental lines maintained on different hosts for 18 generations. Fleas fed on principal (P-line) or novel hosts, either sympatric with (S-line) or allopatric to (A-line) a flea and its principal host, then we assessed their reproductive performance via the number and size of eggs. We compared reproductive performance between hosts within a line and between lines within a host asking: (a) whether fleas adapt to a novel host species after multiple generations; (b) if yes, whether the pattern of adaptation differs between novel host species sympatric with or allopatric to a flea and its principal host; and (c) adaptation to a novel host is accompanied with a loss of success in exploitation of an original host. Fleas from the S- and A-lines increased their egg production on a novel host (except X. ramesis from the S-line). S. cleopatrae from the S-line but not the A-line increased egg size on a novel host, whereas X. ramesis from the A-line but not the S-line produced larger eggs from a novel host. We found no indication of a loss of reproductive performance on the original host while adapting to a novel host. We conclude that fleas are able to switch rapidly to a new host with the pattern of a switch to either sympatric or an allopatric host depending on the identities of both flea and host species.
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