A trade-off between resource-specialization and the breadth of the ecological niche is one of the most fundamental biological characteristics. A true generalist (Jack-of-all-trades) displays a broad ecological niche with little resource specialization while the opposite is true for a resource-specialist that has a restricted ecological niche that it masters. Parasites that manipulate hosts’ behavior are often thought to represent resource-specialists based on a few spectacular examples of manipulation of the host’s behavior. However, the determinants of which, and how many, hosts a manipulating parasite can exploit (i.e., niche breadth) are basically unknown. Here, I present an analysis based on published records of the use of hosts by 67 species from 38 genera of helminths inducing parasite increased trophic transmission, a widespread strategy of parasites that has been reported from many taxa of parasites and hosts. Using individual and multivariate analyses, I examined the effect of the host’s and parasite’s taxonomy, location of the parasite in the host, type of behavioral change, and the effect of debilitation on host-specificity, measured as the mean taxonomic relatedness of hosts that a parasite can manipulate. Host-specificity varied substantially across taxa suggesting great variation in the level of resource-specialization among manipulating parasites. Location of the parasite, level of debilitation, and type of host were all significant predictors of host-specificity. More specifically, hosts’ behavioral modification that involves interaction with the central nervous system presumably restricts parasites to more closely related hosts than does manipulation of the host’s behavior via debilitation of the host’s physiology. The results of the analysis suggest that phylogenetic relatedness of hosts is a useful measure of host-specificity in comparative studies of the complexity of interactions taking place between manipulating parasites and their hosts.
Integrative and Comparative Biology, 2014, Vol 54, Issue 2, p. 149-158