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Am Nat. 2002 Aug;160(2):245-54. doi: 10.1086/341020.

Host-parasitoid association and diffuse coevolution: when to be a generalist?

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Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique, Unité Mixte de Recherche, 1112 R.O.S.E., 37, boulevard du Cap BP 2078, 06606 Antibes Cedex, France.


In host-parasitoid communities, hosts are subjected to selective pressures from numerous parasitoid species, and parasitoids may attack several host species. The specificity of host resistance and parasitoid virulence is thus a key factor in host-parasitoid coevolution. A continuum of strategies exists, from strict specificity to a generalist strategy. The optimal level of specificity may differ in host and parasitoid. I investigated the optimal level of resistance specificity using a model in which the host could be attacked by two parasitoid species, with variable levels of defense specificity. The fitness of a parasitoid attacking two host species with different levels of virulence specificity was also modeled. Finally, a fluctuating environment was simulated by introducing variable probabilities of encounters between antagonistic species over several generations. If the frequency of encounters with the antagonistic species is fixed, then both host and parasitoid gain from a strategy of exclusive specialization toward the most frequent antagonist. If the frequency of encounters fluctuates between generations, generalist host resistance and partially specialist parasitoid virulence are favored. Generalist host resistance may be considered to be a bet-hedging response to an unpredictable environment. This asymmetry in host-parasitoid coevolution may account for some of the genetic structures observed in the field for host-parasitoid associations.

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