The diversification of parasite groups often occurs at the same time as the diversification of their hosts. However, most studies demonstrating this concordance only examine single host–parasite groups. Multiple diverse lineages of ectoparasitic lice occur across both birds and mammals. Here, we describe the evolutionary history of lice based on analyses of 1107 single-copy orthologous genes from sequenced genomes of 46 species of lice. We identify three major diverse groups of lice: one exclusively on mammals, one almost exclusively on birds and one on both birds and mammals. Each of these groups radiated just after the Cretaceous–Paleogene (K-Pg) boundary, the time of the mass extinction event of the dinosaurs and rapid diversification of most of the modern lineages of birds and mammals.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20180141
JournalBiology Letters
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2018


  • Coevolution
  • Host–parasite interactions
  • Phthiraptera
  • Phylogenomics
  • Systematics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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