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Data from: Tradeoffs with growth limit host range in complex life cycle helminths

Cite this dataset

Benesh, Daniel; Parker, Geoff; Chubb, James C.; Lafferty, Kevin (2020). Data from: Tradeoffs with growth limit host range in complex life cycle helminths [Dataset]. Dryad.


Parasitic worms with complex life cycles have several developmental stages, with each stage creating opportunities to infect additional host species. Using a dataset for 973 species of trophically transmitted acanthocephalans, cestodes, and nematodes, we confirmed that worms with longer life cycles (i.e. more successive hosts) infect a greater diversity of host species and taxa (after controlling for study effort). Generalism at the stage level was highest for ‘middle’ life stages, the second and third intermediate hosts of long life cycles. By simulating life cycles in real food webs, we found that middle stages had more potential host species to infect, suggesting that opportunity constrains generalism. However, parasites usually infected fewer host species than expected from simulated cycles, suggesting generalism also has costs. There was no tradeoff in generalism from one stage to the next, but worms spent less time growing and developing in stages where they infected more taxonomically diverse hosts. Our results demonstrate that life cycle complexity favors high generalism, and host use across life stages is determined by both ecological opportunity and life history tradeoffs.


Data on the host generalism of complex life cycle helminths was compiled from literature sources and databases. We compared helminth generalism to that from life cycles simulated in empirical food webs. More details on how data were compiled, processed, and analysed can be found in our manuscript (Benesh et al. 2020. Tradeoffs with growth limit host range in complex life cycle helminths. The American Naturalist), in the metadata associated with the data files, and in this GitHub repository:

Usage notes

The data are divided into 5 zip archives. Three contain the raw data used to calculate parasite generalism: "", "", and "". They include life cycle, host association, and study effort data, respectively. From these data, we calculated parasite generalism (and other variables) at the parasite species and stage levels. Those tables were used in the main analyses and are contained in "". An additional archive, "", has generalism data for parasite life cycles that were simulated in real food webs. Each archive contains a "METADA.txt" describing contents of the data files.


Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, Award: BE 5336/3-1