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International Journal of Ecology
Volume 2012, Article ID 280169, 20 pages
Review Article

The Role of Parasitism in Adaptive Radiations—When Might Parasites Promote and When Might They Constrain Ecological Speciation?

1Department of Biological and Environmental Science, Centre of Excellence in Evolutionary Research, University of Jyväskylä, P.O. Box 35, 40014, Finland
2Department of Fish Ecology and Evolution, Eawag: Centre of Ecology, Evolution and Biogeochemistry, Seestrasse 79, 6047 Kastanienbaum, Switzerland
3Division of Aquatic Ecology & Macroevolution, Institute of Ecology and Evolution, University of Bern, Baltzerstrasse 6, 3012 Bern, Switzerland

Received 16 August 2011; Revised 28 November 2011; Accepted 2 January 2012

Academic Editor: Andrew Hendry

Copyright © 2012 Anssi Karvonen and Ole Seehausen. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Research on speciation and adaptive radiation has flourished during the past decades, yet factors underlying initiation of reproductive isolation often remain unknown. Parasites represent important selective agents and have received renewed attention in speciation research. We review the literature on parasite-mediated divergent selection in context of ecological speciation and present empirical evidence for three nonexclusive mechanisms by which parasites might facilitate speciation: reduced viability or fecundity of immigrants and hybrids, assortative mating as a pleiotropic by-product of host adaptation, and ecologically-based sexual selection. We emphasise the lack of research on speciation continuums, which is why no study has yet made a convincing case for parasite driven divergent evolution to initiate the emergence of reproductive isolation. We also point interest towards selection imposed by single versus multiple parasite species, conceptually linking this to strength and multifariousness of selection. Moreover, we discuss how parasites, by manipulating behaviour or impairing sensory abilities of hosts, may change the form of selection that underlies speciation. We conclude that future studies should consider host populations at variable stages of the speciation process, and explore recurrent patterns of parasitism and resistance that could pinpoint the role of parasites in imposing the divergent selection that initiates ecological speciation.