University of Georgia
Host-parasite associations are complex interactions dependent on aspects of hosts (e.g. traits, phylogeny or coevolutionary history), parasites (e.g. traits and parasite interactions) and geography (e.g. latitude). Predicting the permissive host set or the subset of the host community that a parasite can infect is a central goal of parasite ecology. Here we develop models that accurately predict the permissive host set of 562 helminth parasites in five different parasite taxonomic groups. We developed predictive models using host traits, host taxonomy, geographic covariates, and parasite community composition, finding that models trained on parasite community variables were more accurate than any other covariate group, even though parasite community covariates only captured a quarter of the variance in parasite community composition. This suggests that it is possible to predict the permissive host set for a given parasite, and that parasite community structure is an important predictor, potentially because parasite communities are interacting non-random assemblages.