The evolutionary ecology of complex lifecycle parasites: linking phenomena with mechanisms



Auld S & Tinsley MC (2015) The evolutionary ecology of complex lifecycle parasites: linking phenomena with mechanisms. Heredity, 114 (2), pp. 125-132.

Many parasitic infections, including those of humans, are caused by complex lifecycle parasites (CLPs): parasites that sequentially infect different hosts over the course of their lifecycle. CLPs come from a wide range of taxonomic groups-from single-celled bacteria to multicellular flatworms-yet share many common features in their life histories. Theory tells us when CLPs should be favoured by selection, but more empirical studies are required in order to quantify the costs and benefits of having a complex lifecycle, especially in parasites that facultatively vary their lifecycle complexity. In this article, we identify ecological conditions that favour CLPs over their simple lifecycle counterparts and highlight how a complex lifecycle can alter transmission rate and trade-offs between growth and reproduction. We show that CLPs participate in dynamic host-parasite coevolution, as more mobile hosts can fuel CLP adaptation to less mobile hosts. Then, we argue that a more general understanding of the evolutionary ecology of CLPs is essential for the development of effective frameworks to manage the many diseases they cause. More research is needed identifying the genetics of infection mechanisms used by CLPs, particularly into the role of gene duplication and neofunctionalisation in lifecycle evolution. We propose that testing for signatures of selection in infection genes will reveal much about how and when complex lifecycles evolved, and will help quantify complex patterns of coevolution between CLPs and their various hosts. Finally, we emphasise four key areas where new research approaches will provide fertile opportunities to advance this field.

Heredity: Volume 114, Issue 2

FundersNatural Environment Research Council
Publication date28/02/2015
Publication date online17/09/2014
Date accepted by journal12/08/2014
PublisherNature Publishing Group

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Professor Matthew Tinsley

Professor Matthew Tinsley

Professor, Biological and Environmental Sciences

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