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Proc Biol Sci. 2002 Apr 7;269(1492):703-10.

Host range and local parasite adaptation.

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  • 1Department of Biology, Carleton University, 1125 Colonel By Drive, Ottawa, ON, Canada KIS 5B6.


Parasites may be expected to become locally adapted to their hosts. However, while many empirical studies have demonstrated local parasite adaptation, others have failed to demonstrate it, or have shown local parasite maladaptation. Researchers have suggested that gene flow can swamp local parasite-host dynamics and produce local adaptation only at certain geographical scales; others have argued that evolutionary lags can account for both null and maladaptive results. In this paper, we use item response theory (IRT) to test whether host range influences the likelihood of parasites locally adapting to their hosts. We collated 32 independent experiments testing for local adaptation, where parasites could be assigned as having either broad or narrow host ranges (BHR and NHR, respectively). Twenty-five tests based on BHR parasites had a significantly lower average effect size than seven NHR tests, indicating that studies based on BHR parasites are less likely to demonstrate local parasite adaptation. We argue that this may relate to evolutionary lags during diffuse coevolution of BHR parasites with their hosts, rather than differences in experimental approaches or other confounds between BHR and NHR studies.

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