Parasite species often show differential fitness on different host species.We developed an equation-based model to explore conditions favouring host species exploitation and discrimination. In our model, diploid infective stages randomly encountered hosts of two species; the parasite’s relative fitness in exploiting each host species, and its ability to discriminate between them, was determined by the parasite’s genotype at two independent diallelic loci. Relative host species frequency determined allele frequencies at the exploitation locus, whereas differential fitness and combined host density determined frequency of discrimination alleles. The model predicts instances where populations contain mixes of discriminatory and non-discriminatory infective stages. Also, non-discriminatory parasites should evolve when differential fitness is low to moderate and when combined host densities are low, but not so low as to cause parasite extinction. A corollary is that parasite discrimination (and host-specificity) increases with higher combined host densities. Instances in nature where parasites fail to discriminate when differential fitness is extreme could be explained by one host species evolving resistance, following from earlier selection for parasite non-discrimination. Similar results overall were obtained for haploid extensions of the model. Our model emulates multi-host associations and has implications for understanding broadening of host species ranges by parasites.

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Keywords Host specialization, Host species exploitation, Multi-host associations, Parasite discrimination, Population genetics
Persistent URL
Journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Forbes, M, Morrill, A. (André), & Schellinck, J. (Jennifer). (2017). Host species exploitation and discrimination by animal parasites. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 372(1719). doi:10.1098/rstb.2016.0090