Surprisingly little is known about what determines a parasite's host range, which is essential in enabling us to predict the fate of novel infections. In this study, we evaluate the importance of both host and parasite phylogeny in determining the ability of parasites to infect novel host species. Using experimental lab assays, we infected 24 taxonomically diverse species of Drosophila flies (Diptera: Drosophilidae) with five different nematode species (Tylenchida: Allantonematidae: Howardula, Parasitylenchus), and measured parasite infection success, growth, and effects on female host fecundity (i.e., virulence). These nematodes are obligate parasites of mushroom-feeding Drosophila, particularly quinaria and testacea group species, often with severe fitness consequences on their hosts. We show that the potential host ranges of the nematodes are much larger than their actual ranges, even for parasites with only one known host species in nature. Novel hosts that are distantly related from the native host are much less likely to be infected, but among more closely related hosts, there is much variation in susceptibility. Potential host ranges differ greatly between the related parasite species. All nematode species that successfully infected novel hosts produced infective juveniles in these hosts. Most novel infections did not result in significant reductions in the fecundity of female hosts, with one exception: the host specialist Parasitylenchus nearcticus sterilized all quinaria group hosts, only one of which is a host in nature. The large potential host ranges of these parasites, in combination with the high potential for host colonization due to shared mushroom breeding sites, explain the widespread host switching observed in comparisons of nematode and Drosophila phylogenies.
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