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The historical biogeography of co-evolution: emerging infectious diseases are evolutionary accidents waiting to happen

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Ecological fitting refers to interspecific associations characterized by ecologically specialized, yet phylogenetically conservative, resource utilization. During periods of biotic expansion, parasites and hosts may disperse from their areas of origin. In conjunction with ecological fitting, this sets the stage for host switching without evolving novel host utilization capabilities. This is the evolutionary basis of emerging infectious diseases (EIDs). Phylogenetic analysis for comparing trees (PACT) is a method developed to delineate both general and unique historically reticulated and non-reticulated relationships among species and geographical areas, or among parasites and their hosts. PACT is based on ‘Assumption 0’, which states that all species and all hosts in each input phylogeny must be analysed without modification, and the final analysis must be logically consistent with all input data. Assumption 0 will be violated whenever a host or area has a reticulated history with respect to its parasites or species. PACT includes a Duplication Rule, by which hosts or areas are listed for each co-evolutionary or biogeographical event affecting them, which satisfies Assumption 0 even if there are reticulations. PACT maximizes the search for general patterns by using Ockam's Razor – duplicate only enough to satisfy Assumption 0. PACT applied to the host and geographical distributions of members of two groups of parasitic helminths infecting anthropoid primates indicates a long and continuous association with those hosts. Nonetheless, c. 30% of the host associations are due to host switching. Only one of those involves non-primate hosts, suggesting that most were constrained by resource requirements that are phylogenetically conservative among primates (ecological fitting). In addition, most of the host switches were associated with episodes of biotic expansion, also as predicted by the ecological fitting view of EIDs.
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Keywords: Co-evolution; PACT; ecological fitting; emerging infectious diseases; evolution; historical biogeography; phylogeny

Document Type: Guest Editorial

Publication date: August 1, 2005

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