A hypothesis to explain host species differences in resistance to multi-host parasites

Mark R. Forbes, Julia J. Mlynarek


Here, we offer a novel hypothesis to explain why some host species evolve resistance, whereas other related species remain susceptible to a shared parasite species. We first describe instances of single water mite species that are ectoparasitic on different species of host dragonflies, where the mites are killed by resistance mechanisms and have little to no fitness on some host species. This begs the question of why some host species are susceptible, whereas other host species are (nearly) completely resistant. Earlier logic based on parasites exploiting abundant host species at the cost of exploiting rare host species does not explain such instances well. Rather, a hypothesis based on closed populations of some host species being able to evolve parasite recognition is invoked. Parasite recognition is not expected to evolve in host species from more open populations with considerable gene flow across sites, only some sites of which have the parasite species present. The logic of this hypothesis can be explored with simulation models, whereas empirical tests could involve combined approaches using molecular genetics, population genetics, experimental infections and transplantation experiments.


parasite-host co-evolution; host resistance; multihost parasite; parasite host range

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