The ghost of hosts past: Impacts of host extinction on parasite specificity

Maxwell J. Farrell, Andrew W. Park, Clayton E. Cressler, Tad Dallas, Shan Huang, Nicole Mideo, Ignacio Morales-Castilla, T. Jonathan Davies, Patrick Stephens

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


A growing body of research is focused on the extinction of parasite species in response to host endangerment and declines. Beyond the loss of parasite species richness, host extinction can impact apparent parasite host specificity, as measured by host richness or the phylogenetic distances among hosts. Such impacts on the distribution of parasites across the host phylogeny can have knock-on effects that may reshape the adaptation of both hosts and parasites, ultimately shifting the evolutionary landscape underlying the potential for emergence and the evolution of virulence across hosts. Here, we examine how the reshaping of host phylogenies through extinction may impact the host specificity of parasites, and offer examples from historical extinctions, present-day endangerment, and future projections of biodiversity loss. We suggest that an improved understanding of the impact of host extinction on contemporary host-parasite interactions may shed light on core aspects of disease ecology, including comparative studies of host specificity, virulence evolution in multi-host parasite systems, and future trajectories for host and parasite biodiversity. This article is part of the theme issue 'Infectious disease macroecology: parasite diversity and dynamics across the globe'.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20200351
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1837
StatePublished - Nov 8 2021


  • coextinction
  • host-parasite interaction
  • infectious diseases
  • phylogenetic ecology
  • virulence evolution

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


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