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Although multihost complex life cycles (CLCs) are common in several distantly related groups of parasites, their evolution remains poorly understood. In this article, we argue that under particular circumstances, adding a second host to a single-host life cycle is likely to enhance transmission (i.e., reaching the target host). For instance, in several situations, the propagules of a parasite exploiting a predator species will achieve a higher host-finding success by encysting in a prey of the target predator than by other dispersal modes. In such a case, selection should favor the transition from a single- to a two-host life cycle that includes the prey species as an intermediate host. We use an optimality model to explore this idea, and we discuss it in relation to dispersal strategies known among free-living species, especially animal dispersal. The model found that selection favored a complex life cycle only if intermediate hosts were more abundant than definitive hosts. The selective value of a complex life cycle increased with predation rates by definitive hosts on intermediate hosts. In exploring trade-offs between transmission strategies, we found that more costly trade-offs made it more difficult to evolve a CLC while less costly trade-offs between traits could favor a mixed strategy.

Original publication




Journal article


The American naturalist

Publication Date





172 - 181


Centre d'Etude sur le Polymorphisme des Microorganismes, Unité Mixte de Recherche, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique/Institut de Recherche pour le Développement, Centre IRD, 911 Avenue Agropolis, BP 64501, 34394, Montpellier Cedex 5, France.


Animals, Parasites, Parasitic Diseases, Predatory Behavior, Models, Biological, Host-Parasite Interactions, Biological Evolution