When do parasites fail to speciate in response to host speciation?

Kevin P. Johnson, Richard J. Adams, Roderic D.M. Page, Dale H. Clayton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Cospeciation generally increases the similarity between host and parasite phylogenies. Incongruence between host and parasite phylogenies has previously been explained in terms of host switching, sorting, and duplication events. Here, we describe an additional process, failure of the parasite to speciate in response to host speciation, that may be important in some host-parasite systems. Failure to speciate is likely to occur when gene flow among parasite populations is much higher than that of their hosts. We reconstructed trees from mitochondrial and nuclear DNA sequences for pigeons and doves (Aves: Columbiformes) and their feather lice in the genus Columbicola (Insecta: Phthiraptera). Although Comparisons of the trees from each group revealed a significant amount of cospeciation, there was also a significant degree of incongruence. Cophylogenetic analyses generally indicated that host switching may be an important process in the history of this host-parasite association. Using terminal sister taxon comparisons, we also identified three apparent cases where the host has speciated but the associated parasite has not. In two of these cases of failure to speciate, these comparisons involve allopatric sister taxa of hosts whose lice also occur on hosts sympatric with both of the allopatric sisters. These additional hosts for generalist lice may promote gene flow with lice on the allopatric sister species. Relative rate comparisons for the mitochondrial cytochrome oxidase I gene indicate that molecular substitution occurs about 11 times faster in lice than in their avian hosts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)37-47
Number of pages11
JournalSystematic biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2003


  • Coevolution
  • Columbiformes
  • Cospeciation
  • Lice
  • Molecular phylogeny
  • Phthiraptera

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics


Dive into the research topics of 'When do parasites fail to speciate in response to host speciation?'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this