Evolution in action: climate change, biodiversity dynamics and emerging infectious disease

Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2015 Apr 5;370(1665):20130553. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2013.0553.


Climatological variation and ecological perturbation have been pervasive drivers of faunal assembly, structure and diversification for parasites and pathogens through recurrent events of geographical and host colonization at varying spatial and temporal scales of Earth history. Episodic shifts in climate and environmental settings, in conjunction with ecological mechanisms and host switching, are often critical determinants of parasite diversification, a view counter to more than a century of coevolutionary thinking about the nature of complex host-parasite assemblages. Parasites are resource specialists with restricted host ranges, yet shifts onto relatively unrelated hosts are common during phylogenetic diversification of parasite lineages and directly observable in real time. The emerging Stockholm Paradigm resolves this paradox: Ecological Fitting (EF)--phenotypic flexibility and phylogenetic conservatism in traits related to resource use, most notably host preference--provides many opportunities for rapid host switching in changing environments, without the evolution of novel host-utilization capabilities. Host shifts via EF fuel the expansion phase of the Oscillation Hypothesis of host range and speciation and, more generally, the generation of novel combinations of interacting species within the Geographic Mosaic Theory of Coevolution. In synergy, an environmental dynamic of Taxon Pulses establishes an episodic context for host and geographical colonization.

Keywords: climate change; coevolution; ecological fitting; emerging infectious disease; host colonization.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animal Distribution
  • Animals
  • Biodiversity*
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Climate Change*
  • Communicable Diseases, Emerging*
  • Humans
  • Introduced Species
  • Species Specificity