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Coevolution of Life on Hosts

Integrating Ecology and History

For most, the mere mention of lice forces an immediate hand to the head and recollection of childhood experiences with nits, medicated shampoos, and traumatic haircuts. But for a certain breed of biologist, lice make for fascinating scientific fodder, especially enlightening in the study of coevolution. In this book, three leading experts on host-parasite relationships demonstrate how the stunning coevolution that occurs between such species in microevolutionary, or ecological, time generates clear footprints in macroevolutionary, or historical, time. By integrating these scales, Coevolution of Life on Hosts offers a comprehensive understanding of the influence of coevolution on the diversity of all life.

Following an introduction to coevolutionary concepts, the authors combine experimental and comparative host-parasite approaches for testing coevolutionary hypotheses to explore the influence of ecological interactions and coadaptation on patterns of diversification and codiversification among interacting species. Ectoparasites—a diverse assemblage of organisms that ranges from herbivorous insects on plants, to monogenean flatworms on fish, and feather lice on birds—are powerful models for the study of coevolution because they are easy to observe, mark, and count. As lice on birds and mammals are permanent parasites that spend their entire lifecycles on the bodies of their hosts, they are ideally suited to generating a synthetic overview of coevolution—and, thereby, offer an exciting framework for integrating the concepts of coadaptation and codiversification.

320 pages | 16 color plates, 110 halftones, 3 line drawings, 4 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2015

Interspecific Interactions

Biological Sciences: Behavioral Biology, Biology--Systematics, Ecology, Evolutionary Biology, Natural History


“It's a lousy world out there! . . . Parasites and their hosts constitute fascinating examples of ecological and evolutionary interactions, as evidenced by the interest that people as far away from the field as cartoonist Gary Larson pay to the lives of these critters. Hence there is every reason to consider these organisms to be model systems of coevolution. Clayton and his collaborators Bush and Johnson have together with their many students done an impressive job by filling out many of the gaps of knowledge on coevolution, thereby accidentally filling an academic niche in the same way as many ectoparasites squeeze into empty spaces on the host to make their living. . . . This is an exciting book that will direct many students towards the study of lice and other parasites, and thereby spread an interest in coevolution at large—as large as this topic deserves.”

Trends in Ecology & Evolution

“Clayton and Bush and Johnson make it abundantly clear that external parasites and their hosts are excellent subjects for evolutionary studies. . . . The authors cite many such studies in context, as the book refers, where appropriate, to evolutionary theory from Darwin through Dobzhansky, Wright, and other more recent authors, and include about 1,000 references in their 50-page ‘Literature Cited’ section.  They also attempt to describe, illustrate, and define such terms as coevolution and coadaptation.  For its subject matter, the book is readable, with some quotations from various sources and some humor.  There are abundant illustrations, mostly charts but some pictures of organisms; some plates, including color; graphs and tables, all of good quality; and many text boxes explaining ideas. . . . A useful resource for collections on evolutionary experimentation and theory. . . . Recommended.”

M. LaBar, Southern Wesleyan University | Choice

“This is not only a book about lice and host adaptations and counter-adaptations, this is a book about how one tests for the role of coevolution by studying a fascinating system. It is the way the authors lay out the logic and rationale for the tests and comparisons they present that will make this book timeless. . . . There is no question that the culmination of decades of work by Clayton, Bush, and Johnson has provided a rich tapestry woven together in Coevolution of Life on Hosts. Champions and skeptics of coevolution alike will find a wealth of studies and ideas that are sure to generate deep thought. In my opinion, Clayton, Bush, and Johnson have shown us that coevolution is a continual and important source of selection between interacting lineages.”

David M. Althoff, Syracuse University | Evolution

“Clayton, Bush, and Johnson’s writing has a way of sneaking up on you, drawing you further and further into the fascinating world of lice, their unfortunate hosts (count us among The Chosen, of course), and evolution’s hand on all participants, be they willing or unwilling. This may be a book intended for biologists, but I would call it a page-turner for just about anyone who—forgive the pun—itches to learn more about little creatures that make their living by sucking and chewing on bigger creatures. Let me just say this: I know for sure it’s a treasure trove for at least one cartoonist.”

Gary Larson | creator of "The Far Side" TM

“A fascinating treatment of coevolution using the very interesting and apt model system of lice-host associations. The authors assemble and consider a great deal of research to achieve a broad synthesis—for instance, linking microevolution and macroevolution, taking a community ecology approach to host-parasite coevolution, and reflecting on geographic structure as part of the coevolutionary process. As an insect-plant person I was very much taken in, and I left the book with a new appreciation for what these systems can teach us about coevolution. The scholarship is exceptional. Thorough, carefully documented, well-substantiated, and with flashes of humor, Coevolution of Life on Hosts will become a bible for students of lice-host interactions, but it should appeal to anybody with an interest in coevolution and has the potential to be a crossover work that stimulates thought and progress in many fields.”

Kelley J. Tilmon, South Dakota State University | editor of "Specialization, Speciation & Radiation: The Evolutionary Biology of Herbivorous Insects"

Table of Contents


Part I. Background

1. Introduction to coevolution
2. Biology of lice: overview
3. Effects of lice on hosts

Part II. Coadaptation

4. Adaptations for resisting lice
5. Counter-adaptations of lice
6. Competition and coadaptation

Part III. Hosts as islands

7. Dispersal
8. Population structure

Part IV. Codiversification

9. Cophylogenetic dynamics
10. Comparative cophylogenetics of lice
11. Coadaptive diversification of lice

Part V. Synthesis

12. Coevolution of life on hosts

Color Plates
Literature cited

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