Aunger's ecological relationships

From: Scott Chase (
Date: Sun 24 Apr 2005 - 06:44:21 GMT

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    Aunger uses the term "parasitoid" in a manner on page 226 that strains its ecological definition. He uses it in the sense of hypersimplifying trends in replicators: "parasites on parasites on parasites". The typical ecological example of parasitoidism is an intermediate condition between predation and parasitism, such as when wasps uses a host as a depot for their eggs and these hatch to consume the host. I've heard of birds like cuckoos being referred to as parasitoids (Minkoff, _Evolutionary Biology_, 1983, page 165) which lay eggs in host species nest so the young can take resources from the surrogate "parents" like a parasite would. Alcock, though on page 27-8 of
    _Animal Behavior_ (5th ed), refers to this situation as brood parasitism. Nonetheless I fail to see how Aunger's use of the term "parasitoid" makes sense.

    On page 61 Aunger strains the definition of parasitism when he says that "some parasites don't inflict penalties on their hosts." If so, this would cease being a parasitic relationship wouldn't it? He really gets creative when he says: "The bacteria in our gut are also parasites, but their relationship with us is one of mutual benefit, or symbiosis." I don't even know where to begin. Why have distinctive concepts for symbiotic "living together" relationships like parasitism and mutualism when people muddle them up like this? Based on Table 15.1 on page 217 of Robert Smith's _Elements of Ecology_ (3rd ed) where part of my treatment of parasitoidism comes from we have clear distinctions made where in mutualism both organisms benefit and in parasitism "fitness of one is reduced; fitness of the other is increased" much like predation. Some cases might not be straightforward and a parasite could evolve away from parasitism to mutualism where it would cease to be a parasite, but Aunger isn't being very clear on what he means by his usage of these terms.

    It's hard enough to rid people of the kneejerk equation of symbiosis and mutualism as synonyms and I'm trying my hardest to give up on this futile effort. Making mutualism, parasitism, and symbiosis synonymous would mean we might as well throw all of these words in the garbage can.

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