"So, naturalists observe, a flea has smaller fleas that on him prey; and these have smaller still to bite ’em; and so proceed ad infinitum."
- Jonathan Swift

April 9, 2011

Columbicola extinctus

Speaking of co-extinctions, here's a contribution that I just got from Anya Gonchar. Columbicola extinctus is a louse that was specific to the Passenger Pigeon, the bird that forever disappeared in the early 20th century. In addition to many advantages of the narrow specialization, C. extinctus has experienced the most drastic of its drawbacks: it has followed its only host into extinction. This could have been one of the impressive examples for a discussion regarding specialist vs. generalist strategies in parasites, if the story hadn't suddenly taken a happy turn. C. extinctus was rediscovered from the Band-tailed Pigeon, while its fellow pseudo-extinct louse C. defectus was suggested to belong to a different species Campanulotes flavus that is still safe and sound. Still, parasite coextinction is documented in numerous other cases where we may not count on such good luck. Fortunately, there is now a large body of literature featuring related topics so that the problem is not neglected. The origin of this blog goes back to celebrating the year 2010 as an International Biodiversity Year. As the previous entries have shown, parasite diversity is enormous indeed. Yet, some parasite species’ existence is challenged. Further reading: Koh L. P. et al. 2004. Species coextinctions and the biodiversity crisis. Science 305, 1632. Dunn R. R. et al. 2009. The sixth mass coextinction: are most endangered species parasites and mutualists? Proc. R. Soc. B, 276, 3037-3045. Clayton D.H., Johnson K.P. 2003. Linking coevolutionary history to ecological process: doves and lice. Evolution, 57(10), 2335–2341. Johnson K.P. et al. 2003. When do parasites fail to speciate in response to host speciation? Syst. Biol. 52(1), 37–47. Johnson K.P. et al. 2009. Competition promotes the evolution of host eneralists in obligate parasites. Proc. R. Soc. B, 276, 3921–3926. Image is of Campanulotes flavus, from the paper: Price et al. 2000. Pigeon lice down under: taxonomy of Australian Campanulotes (Phthiraptera:Philopteridae), with a description of C. durdeni n. sp. Journal of Parasitology 86:948-950.

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