Characterizing the Phylogenetic Specialism–Generalism Spectrum of Mammal Parasites

Proceedings of the Royal Society B

Corresponding Authors: Andrew Park, awpark@uga.edu; J. P. Schmidt, jps@uga.edu; John Drake, john@drakeresearchlab.com; Patrick Stephens, prsteph@uga.edu

Generalist parasites are parasites that can infect many different hosts, allowing them to impact a wide range of animals and potentially facilitate disease emergence in new hosts. While this poses a threat for biodiversity conservation and public health, understanding the distribution of a single parasite on multiple host species, and how the evolutionary connectedness of hosts predicts these host-parasite relations is challenging to define. However, a recent push to merge evolutionary data with biodiversity research has inspired researchers to incorporate phylogenetic information to better understand the mechanisms behind parasite generalism and their known (or unknown) host species. In a recent study, CEID researchers examine this phylogenetic relatedness between mammalian hosts harboring the same parasite to pinpoint the factors that help determine host-parasite relationships across large ecological scales. Using three metrics (mean pairwise phylogenetic distance (PD), maximum PD, and phylogenetic aggregation), they characterize the phylogenetic generalism of parasites by analyzing a database containing over 1400 parasite species known to infect up to 69 mammals. The results of their analysis show that bacteria and arthropod parasites tend to be the most generalist, followed by viruses and helminths. On average, protozoa are the most specialist parasite group. The results of this study help bridge the gap between phylogenetics and conservation, improving efforts to understand host-parasite relations across large spatial and genetic scales.

Park, A. W., et al. “Characterizing the Phylogenetic Specialism–Generalism Spectrum of Mammal Parasites.” Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, vol. 285, no. 1874, July 2018, p. 20172613., doi:10.1098/rspb.2017.2613.