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Coevolution of hosts and parasites

  • R. M. Anderson (a1) and R. M. May (a2)
  • DOI:
  • Published online: 01 April 2009

The coevolution of parasites and their hosts has both general biological interest and practical implications in agricultural, veterinary and medical fields. Surprisingly, most medical, parasitological and ecological texts dismiss the subject with unsupported statements to the effect that ‘successful’ parasite species evolve to be harmless to their hosts. Recently, however, several people have explored theoretical aspects of the population genetics of host-parasite associations; these authors conclude that such associations may be responsible for much of the genetic diversity found within natural populations, from blood group polymorphisms (Haldane, 1949) to protein polymorphisms in general (Clarke, 1975, 1976) and to histocompatibility systems (Duncan, Wakeland & Klein, 1980). It has also been argued that pathogens may constitute the selective force responsible for the evolution and maintenance of sexual reproduction in animal and plant species (Jaenike, 1978; Hamilton, 1980, 1981, 1982; Bremermann, 1980).

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