Patterns associated with the evolution of parasite diversity, speciation and diversification were analysed using Dactylogyrus species (gill monogeneans) and their cyprinid hosts as a model. The aim of this study was to use this highly specific host–parasite systems to review: (1) the diversity and distribution of Dactylogyrus species, (2) the patterns of organization and structure of Dactylogyrus communities, (3) the evolution and determinants of host specificity and (4) the mode of Dactylogyrus speciation and co-evolutionary patterns in this Dactylogyrus–cyprinid systems. Dactylogyrus are a highly diverse group of parasites, with their biogeography and distribution clearly linked to the evolutionary history of their cyprinid hosts. The coexistence of several Dactylogyrus species on one host is facilitated by increasing niche distances and the differing morphology of their reproductive organs. The positive interspecific and intraspecific interactions seem to be the most important factors determining the structure of Dactylogyrus communities. Host specificity is partially constrained by parasite phylogeny. Being a strict specialist is an ancestral character for Dactylogyrus, being the intermediate specialists or generalists are the derived characters. The evolution of attachment organ morphology is associated with both parasite phylogeny and host specificity. Considering larger and long-lived hosts or hosts with several ecological characters as the measures of resource predictability, specialists with larger anchors occurred on larger or longer-living fish species. Intra-host speciation, a mode of speciation not often recorded in parasites, was observed in Dactylogyrus infecting sympatric cyprinids. Sister parasite species coexisting on the same host occupied niches that differed in at least one niche variable. Intra-host speciation, however, was not observed in Dactylogyrus species of congeneric hosts from geographically isolated areas, which suggested association by descent and host-switching events.