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Parasite rates of discovery, global species richness and host specificity
Costello, M.J. (2016). Parasite rates of discovery, global species richness and host specificity. Integrative and Comparative Biology 56(4): 588-599.
In: Integrative and Comparative Biology. Oxford University Press: McLean, VA. ISSN 1540-7063; e-ISSN 1557-7023, more
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  • Costello, M.J., more

    If every metazoan species has at least one host-specific parasite, as several local scale studies have suggested, then half of all species could be parasites. However, host specificity varies significantly depending on host phylogeny, body size, habitat, and geographic distribution. The best studied hosts tend to be vertebrates, larger animals, and/or widespread, and thus have a higher number of parasites and host-specific parasites. Thus, host specificity for these well-known taxa cannot be simply extrapolated to other taxa, notably invertebrates, small sized, and more endemic species, which comprise the major portion of yet to be discovered species. At present, parasites of animals comprise about 5% of named species. This article analyzed the rate of description of several largely parasitic taxa within crustaceans (copepods, amphipods, isopods, pentastomids, cirripeds), marine helminths (nematodes, acanthocephalans, flukes), gastropod molluscs, insects (ticks, fleas, biting flies, strepispterans), and microsporidia. The period of highest discovery has been most recent for the marine helminths and microsporids. The number of people describing parasites has been increasing since the 1960s, as it has for all other taxa. However, the number of species being described per decade relative to the number of authors has been decreasing except for the helminths. The results indicate that more than half of all parasites have been described, and two-thirds of host taxa, although the proportion varies between taxa. It is highly unlikely that the number of named species of parasites will ever approach that of their hosts. This contrast between the proportion that parasites comprise of local and global faunas suggests that parasites are less host specific and more widespread than local scale studies suggest.

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