Host density drives the postglacial migration of the tree parasite, Epifagus virginiana.
To survive changes in climate, successful species shift their geographic ranges to remain in suitable habitats. For parasites and other highly specialized species, distributional changes not only are dictated by climate but can also be engineered by their hosts. The extent of host control on parasite range expansion is revealed through comparisons of host and parasite migration and demographic histories. However, understanding the codistributional history of entire forest communities is complicated by challenges in synthesizing datasets from multiple interacting species of differing datatypes. Here we integrate genetic and fossil pollen datasets from a host-parasite pair; specifically, the population structure of the parasitic plant (Epifagus virginiana) was compared with both its host (Fagus grandifolia) genetic patterns and abundance data from the paleopollen record of the last 21,000 y. Through tests of phylogeographic structure and spatial linear regression models we find, surprisingly, host range changes had little effect on the parasite's range expansion and instead host density is the main driver of parasite spread. Unlike other symbionts that have been used as proxies to track their host's movements, this parasite's migration routes are incongruent with the host and instead reflect the greater importance of host density in this community's assembly. Furthermore, these results confirm predictions of disease ecological models regarding the role of host density in the spread of pathogens. Due to host density constraints, highly specialized species may have low migration capacities and long lag times before colonization of new areas.
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