Host specificity has 2 independent facets: the extent to which different host species are used by a parasite, and the phylogenetic distances among these hosts. Although the number of host species exploited by a parasite commonly is used as a measure of host specificity, it fails to capture ecological and phylogenetic differences among hosts. Here, a new index of host specificity, STD*, is developed and illustrated. This index measures the average taxonomic distinctness among the host species used by a parasite, weighted for the parasite's prevalence in the different hosts. For a given number of host species, the index approaches its minimum value when a parasite achieves high prevalence in a few closely related host species, and the index approaches its highest value when a parasite reaches its highest prevalence values in distantly related host species. Simple hypothetical examples are used to demonstrate the index's computation and some of its properties. The new index is influenced independently both by the taxonomic (or phylogenetic) affinities of a set of host species and by the distribution of prevalence values among these hosts. A single value cannot truly capture all the nuances of a phenomenon as complex as host specificity; nevertheless, the proposed index incorporates the features of specificity that are most relevant to parasitologists and will be a useful tool for comparative studies.

You do not currently have access to this content.