In this concise and very readable book, Robert Poulin has covered a wide area from the evolution of individual parasites, through parasite population dynamics and community structure. The book is welcome as one of the first texts to consider these problems from a parasite-centred perspective.  

The book begins with an evolutionary bias. Poulin looks at the origins of parasitism, the evolution of parasite life cycles and parasite–host specificity before going on to consider strategies of host exploitation and their costs and benefits to the parasite. Areas of conventional wisdom (such as the belief that parasites tend to be small and degenerate in structure when compared with their free-living relatives) are challenged. In particular, it is good to see a section on the evolution of virulence. Treatment of this area of research has been largely confined to the evolutionary literature and has consequently been missed by many parasitologists who are trapped in the dogma of evolution to avirulence. Poulin may bring this important area of theory into the parasitological arena and provoke much-needed empirical tests.  

The remainder of the book has a more ecological feel. The aggregated distribution common to many parasites is a key factor affecting population dynamics and a chapter is devoted to the causes and consequences of overdispersion. In the following chapter, Anderson and May models of parasite dynamics are presented and illustrated with flow diagrams that should be accessible to advanced undergraduates. Empirical examples are presented later in this chapter, although no numerical treatment is given and an example of the population dynamics of a parasite with a simple life cycle would have been helpful. The final chapters look at interactions within parasite infracommunities and review studies of parasite community ecology. The book is well illustrated with classic examples from the parasitological literature.  

This book should be of interest to postgraduate and undergraduate students from both evolutionary ecology and parasitology. Currently, little attention is given to parasitism in standard evolution or ecology texts and those few chapters which deal with parasites are confined to considering their impact on the host. Parasitological texts are not generally evolutionary in approach but tend towards studies of individual parasite–host interactions and epidemiology. For the researcher, the examples and theory are not novel. Rather, the text draws attention to outstanding questions and encourages the application of an evolutionary approach to parasitology and the use of parasites as model systems in evolutionary ecology. This book is intended as a step towards a better integration of evolutionary ecology and parasitology and fulfils this aim admirably.

Alison M. Dunn