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of their data suggest that the relationship between host extinction and parasite species extinction is concave, with parasites (and other dependent species) lost more rapidly than their free-living host species. However, the two groups of parasites that they examined (lice and pinworms of primates) both have very high host specificities, so we would expect quite a tight matching between host extinction and parasite extinction.

The estimates of parasite species extinction rate that Poulin and Morand initially produced failed to account for patterns of host specificity (upper section of Table 4.2) and produced high estimates for loss rates of parasite diversity. When we take host specificity into account, parasitic species seem to go extinct at a lower rate than the host species (lower section of Table 4.2); only ≈3% of helminths (≈2,000 species among 75,000 total) would then seem to be endangered. If our estimates of net parasitic helminth diversity are low by as much as a factor of four, then there could be as many as 10,000 threatened parasitic helminth species. All of this suggests that we are likely to lose considerable numbers of parasitic helminth species before we have had time to obtain specimens that might be identified and classified.

The numbers for parasitic helminth diversity calculated by Poulin and Morand (Table 4.1) suggest that the bulk of parasitic helminth diversity occurs in birds. The majority of these species will have complex life cycles and thus will also depend on host species at lower trophic levels to complete their life cycles. For example, most of the trematode species also require a snail species in which they undergo asexual reproduction, and many will then pass through another intermediate host that will be a prey item in the diet of the bird that acts as the definitive host in which the parasite reproduces sexually. Although the trematode may be able to use a diversity of different bird species as a definitive host, it will most likely be specific to the snail host. As we will show in the next section, projected avian extinctions imply that the spatial patterns of avian loss will be a major driver of the loss of parasite diversity.


We have used a nearly complete, geo-referenced database of the geographical distributions of all of the world’s 8,750 land-bird species to illustrate the geographic patterns of potential avian host diversity (sea birds and mainly pelagic species are excluded). These data reveal a range of patterns for avian diversity (Fig. 4.4) that are not only fascinating from the perspective of avian evolutionary radiations, but also raise an intriguing set of questions about patterns of parasite geographical diversity.

For example, avian species diversity peaks in the tropics and declines rapidly toward the poles. Broadly similar patterns occur at higher taxo-

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