Lice and cospeciation: a response to Barker.Int J Parasitol. 1996 Feb; 26(2):213-8.IJ
"The student who intends working on the Mallophaga should take warning that he will be tried almost beyond endurance by the paradoxes and complexities which beset his subject but he will also find, in the dual and inter-related aspect of insect and bird, an infinite fascination." (Rothschild & Clay, 1952: pp. 156-157). The study of host louse coevolution will benefit greatly from the phylogenetic perspective offered by recent advantages in molecular systematics. However, in order to make best use of phylogenies we need to appreciate the complexities of the possible relations between host and parasite phylogeny. At the same time, the very complexity of louse-host systems has a potentially useful consequence; the presence of multiple lineages of lice on the same hosts allow for replicated tests of coevolutionary hypotheses. For example, if a number of louse clades infest the same host clade but some lice show more cospeciation than others, we might ask whether there are features of louse biology that correlate with this difference in host tracking fidelity. It may further be possible to ascertain the relative importance of these features in ecological time through controlled transfer experiments. By beginning to appreciate "the paradoxes and complexities" of host-louse evolution, lice may offer us not only "infinite fascination" but also a chance to address important questions in coevolution.