The Evolution of Generalization? Parasitoid Flies and the Perils of Inferring Host Range Evolution from Phylogenies

Document Type


Publication Date



It is widely assumed that high resource specificity predisposes lineages toward greater likelihood of extinction and lower likelihood of diversification than more generalized lineages. This suggests that host range evolution in parasitic organisms should proceed from generalist to specialist, and specialist lineages should be found at the ‘tips’ of phylogenies. To test these hypotheses, parsimony and maximum likelihood methods were used to reconstruct the evolution of host range on a phylogeny of parasitoid flies in the family Tachinidae. In contrast to predictions, most reconstructions indicated that generalists were repeatedly derived from specialist lineages and tended to occupy terminal branches of the phylogeny. These results are critically examined with respect to hypotheses concerning the evolution of specialization, the inherent difficulties in inferring host ranges, our knowledge of tachinid-host associations, and the methodological problems associated with ancestral character state reconstruction. Both parsimony and likelihood reconstructions are shown to provide misleading results and it is argued that independent evidence, in addition to phylogenetic trees, is needed to inform models of the evolution of host range and the evolutionary consequences of specialization.