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Deeply conserved susceptibility in a multi‐host, multi‐parasite system

Barrow, Lisa N., McNew, Sabrina M., Mitchell, Nora, Galen, Spencer C., Lutz, Holly L., Skeen, Heather, Valqui, Thomas, Weckstein, Jason D., Witt, Christopher C.
Ecology letters 2019 v.22 no.6 pp. 987-998
birds, ecological competition, hosts, life history, models, parasites, phylogeny, trees, uncertainty, Andes region
Variation in susceptibility is ubiquitous in multi‐host, multi‐parasite assemblages, and can have profound implications for ecology and evolution in these systems. The extent to which susceptibility to parasites is phylogenetically conserved among hosts can be revealed by analysing diverse regional communities. We screened for haemosporidian parasites in 3983 birds representing 40 families and 523 species, spanning ~ 4500 m elevation in the tropical Andes. To quantify the influence of host phylogeny on infection status, we applied Bayesian phylogenetic multilevel models that included a suite of environmental, spatial, temporal, life history and ecological predictors. We found evidence of deeply conserved susceptibility across the avian tree; host phylogeny explained substantial variation in infection status, and results were robust to phylogenetic uncertainty. Our study suggests that susceptibility is governed, in part, by conserved, latent aspects of anti‐parasite defence. This demonstrates the importance of deep phylogeny for understanding present‐day ecological interactions.