Specialized avian Haemosporida trade reduced host breadth for increased prevalence
Parasite specialization on one or a few host species leads to a reduction in the total number of available host individuals, which may decrease transmission. However, specialists are thought to be able to compensate by increased prevalence in the host population and increased success in each individual host. Here, we use variation in host breadth among a community of avian Haemosporida to investigate consequences of generalist and specialist strategies on prevalence across hosts. We show that specialist parasites are more prevalent than generalist parasites in host populations that are shared between them. Moreover, the total number of infections of generalist and specialist parasites within the study area did not vary significantly with host breadth. This suggests that specialists can infect a similar number of host individuals as generalists, thus compensating for a reduction in host availability by achieving higher prevalence in a single host species. Specialist parasites also tended to infect older hosts, whereas infections by generalists were biased towards younger hosts. We suggest that this reflects different abilities of generalists and specialists to persist in hosts following infection. Higher abundance and increased persistence in hosts suggest that specialists are more effective parasites than generalists, supporting the existence of a trade-off between host breadth and average host use among these parasites.
- Host range
- ISSN: 1010-061X