Problems of pattern and scale are considered in relation to helminth communities of freshwater fish by examining them at different hierarchical taxonomic and spatial scales, with a view to seeking generalizations of heuristic value, assessing the importance of phylogenetic and ecological determinants of community structure and improving understanding of unpredictable communities. Initially, communities were analysed at the level of salmonid genera, focusing on Oncorhynchus, in its heartland in Canada: then in O. mykiss throughout its global range and finally in individual localities to which it has been introduced in Britain. In the heartland, communities are dominated by salmonid specialist helminths, forming a phylogenetic element: the minority ecological element comprises broad generalists and non-salmonid specialists. Most species except generic specialists are shared between host genera. As the distance to which O. mykiss was translocated from its heartland increases, so generic specialists disappear first and then salmonid specialists decline. The community is thus increasingly composed of generalists and it also becomes increasingly poor. Helminths may be acquired from native salmonids and/or unrelated hosts, depending on availability. This same pattern is paralleled in individual localities in a restricted region: the phylogenetic element reflects the native salmonid species present and the ecological element the presence of other genera of fish; i.e., a supply-side situation. The change of scale in analysis has thus enabled the recognition of generalizations and patterns of heuristic value and improved the understanding of unpredictable communities by interpreting local variation as ecological 'noise' that often obscures fundamental patterns. In this and other taxa of fish, phylogenetic elements dominate helminth communities in the heartlands, but ecological elements dominate as the host increasingly becomes a stranger in a strange land.