Host specificity is a fundamental property of parasites. Whereas most studies focus on measures of specificity on host range, only few studies have considered quantitative aspects such as infection intensity or prevalence. The relative importance of these quantitative aspects is still unclear, mainly because of methodological constraints, yet central to a precise assessment of host specificity. Here, we assessed simultaneously two quantitative measures of host specificity of Heligmosomoides glareoli and Heligmosomoides polygyrus polygyrus infections in sympatric rodent hosts. We used standard morphological techniques as well as real-time quantitative PCR and sequencing of the rDNA ITS2 fragment to analyse parasite infection via faecal sample remains. Although both parasite species are thought to be strictly species-specific, we found morphologically and molecularly validated co- and cross-infections. We also detected contrasting patterns within and between host species with regard to specificity for prevalence and intensity of infection. H. glareoli intensities were twofold higher in bank voles than in yellow-necked mice, but prevalence did not differ significantly between species (33 vs. 18 %). We found the opposite pattern in H. polygyrus infections with similar intensity levels between host species but significantly higher prevalence in mouse hosts (56 vs. 10 %). Detection rates were higher with molecular tools than morphological methods. Our results emphasize the necessity to consider quantitative aspects of specificity for a full view of a parasites' capacity to replicate and transmit in hosts and present a worked example of how modern molecular tools help to advance our understanding of selective forces in host-parasite ecology and evolution.
Subject classification (UKÄ)
- Biological Sciences