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Q Rev Biol. 1991 Sep;66(3):255-86.

Parasites and sexual selection: a macroevolutionary perspective.

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  • 1Department of Zoology, University of Toronto, Ontario, Canada.


The Hamilton-Zuk hypothesis postulates a causal link between parasitism and the evolution of epigamic traits by intersexual selection. Oversimplified assumptions about basic parasite biology, ambiguous formulation of the hypothesis, and poor communication between ethologists and parasitologists have hampered its testing. The hypothesis is supported at the microevolutionary level if females show significant preference for lightly or uninfected males, if intensity of infection reflects host resistance to parasites that depress host fitness by causing disease, and if intensity of infection is related to the degree of epigamic development. It must be shown that particular parasites cause disease, that the host population is polymorphic for resistance to infection by those species, and that female hosts are capable of distinguishing male hosts with low parasite loads due to heritable aspects of host resistance from males that are uninfected due to chance. The macroevolutionary prediction of the hypothesis, that species displaying strongly developed epigamic characters should host "more parasites" than species with weakly developed epigamic traits, contradicts the microevolutionary dynamic of the hypothesis, and is too ambiguous. We propose a macroevolutionary prediction based on understanding the evolutionary origin of epigamic traits and the evolutionary origin of each host-parasite association. Associations originating in the ancestor in which the epigamic trait appeared corroborate the hypothesis most strongly; those originating prior to the evolution of the epigamic trait corroborate it weakly; those beginning after the origin of the epigamic trait could not have been involved in the origin and spread of the epigamic trait.

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