Abstract Parasites that can infect multiple host species are considered to be host generalists with low host specificity. However, whether generalist parasites are better adapted to a subset of their host species remains unknown. To elucidate this possibility, we compared the variation in prevalence and infection intensity among host species of three generalist parasite lineages belonging to the morphological species Haemoproteus majoris, in a natural bird community in southern Sweden. Prevalence in each host species was confirmed by nested PCR and DNA sequencing and infection intensities were quantified using lineage-specific real-time qPCR. For two of the three lineages, we detected positive correlations between prevalence and infection intensity, indicating that these generalist parasites are better adapted to a subset of host species, which may have been more frequently encountered during the evolution of the parasite; we refer to these as main host species. For both lineages, the main host species were more phylogenetically related than expected by chance as revealed by strong phylogenetic signal in prevalence among hosts. By comparing our results with previous records of these parasites, we found that the host range of a generalist parasite can vary among different communities and may partly be shaped by the presence of other parasites. Our study reveals that generalist parasites may be specialized on a subset of their host species and it highlights the importance of considering infection intensity and host phylogeny when determining the host specificity of a parasite. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.
- Biokemi och molekylärbiologi