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Biol Lett. 2009 Oct 23;5(5):625-7. doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2009.0589. Epub 2009 Aug 26.

Parasites--the new frontier: celebrating Darwin 200.

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Institute of Integrative Biology (IBZ), ETH-Zürich ETH-Zentrum CHN, Universitätsstrasse 16, CH-8092 Zürich, Switzerland.


To Darwin, parasites were fascinating examples of adaptation but their significance as selective factors for a wide range of phenomena has only been studied in depth over the last few decades. This work has had its roots in behavioural/evolutionary ecology on the one hand, and in population biology/ecology on the other, thus shaping a new comprehensive field of 'evolutionary parasitology'. Taking parasites into account has been a success story and has shed new light on several old questions such as sexual selection, the evolution of sex and recombination, changes in behaviour, adaptive life histories, and so forth. In the process, the topic of ecological immunology has emerged, which analyses immune defences in a framework of costs and benefits. Throughout, a recurrent theme is how to appropriately integrate the underlying mechanisms as evolved boundary conditions into a framework of studying the adaptive value of traits. On the conceptual side, major questions remain and await further study.

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