U.S. Department of Agriculture: Agricultural Research Service, Lincoln, Nebraska


Date of this Version



U.S. Government Works



Advances in Parasitology, Volume 93 ISSN 0065-308X


History is the foundation that informs about the nuances of faunal assembly that are essential in understanding the dynamic nature of the host-parasite interface. All of our knowledge begins and ends with evolution, ecology and biogeography, as these interacting facets determine the history of biodiverse systems. These components, relating to Haemonchus, can inform about the complex history of geographical distribution, host association and the intricacies of host-parasite associations that are played out in physiological and behavioural processes that influence the potential for disease and our capacity for effective control in a rapidly changing world. Origins and evolutionary diversification among species of the genus Haemonchus and Hae- monchus contortus occurred in a complex crucible defined by shifts in environmental structure emerging from cycles of climate change and ecological perturbation during the late Tertiary and through the Quaternary. A history of sequential host colonization associated with waves of dispersal bringing assemblages of ungulates from Eurasia into Africa and processes emerging from ecosystems in collision and faunal turnover defined the arena for radiation among 12 recognized species of Haemonchus. Among congeners, the host range for H. contortus is exceptionally broad, including species among artiodactyls of 40 genera representing 5 families (and within 12 tribes of Bovi- dae). Broad host range is dramatically reflected in the degree to which translocation, introduction and invasion with host switching, has characterized an expanding distribution over time in North America, South America, southern Eurasia, Australia and New Zealand, coincidental with agriculture, husbandry and global colonization by human populations driven particularly by European exploration after the 1500s. African origins in xeric to mesic habitats of the African savannah suggest that historical constraints linked to ecological adaptations (tolerances and developmental thresholds defined by temperature and humidity for larval stages) will be substantial determinants in the potential outcomes for widespread geographical and host colonization which are predicted to unfold over the coming century. Insights about deeper evolutionary events, ecology and biogeography are critical as understanding history informs us about the possible range of responses in complex systems under new regimes of environmental forcing, especially, in this case, ecological perturbation linked to climate change. A deeper history of perturbation is relevant in understanding contemporary systems that are now strongly structured by events of invasion and colonization. The relaxation of abiotic and biotic controls on the occurrence of H. contortus, coincidental with inception and dissemination of anthelmintic resistance may be synergistic, serving to exacerbate challenges to control parasites or to limit the socioeconomic impacts of infection that can influence food security and availability. Studies of haemonchine nematodes contribute directly to an expanding model about the nature of diversity and the evolutionary trajectories for faunal assembly among complex hosteparasite systems across considerable spatial and temporal scales.