Original Paper

Evolutionary Ecology

, 21:143

First online:

Sexually-transmitted disease in a sub-tropical eucalypt beetle: infection of the fittest?

  • Helen F. NahrungAffiliated withSchool of Natural Resource Sciences, Queensland University of Technology
  • , Anthony R. ClarkeAffiliated withSchool of Natural Resource Sciences, Queensland University of Technology Email author 

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Abstract

The ecology of sexually-transmitted diseases (STDs) is topical in scientific research, and their demography and epidemiology differ from those of classical pathogens and parasites. Transmission of STDs is generally density-independent, occurs via the “fittest” individuals in a population (or, at least, those that achieve the most matings), and reflects differential mating success. STDs can therefore have a major influence on the evolution of host mating systems. We studied the epidemiology of a recently described STD of a chrysomelid beetle in applied and theoretical contexts, exploring the virulence, intensity and prevalence of infection, and using our results to test ecological predictions. Chrysophtharta cloelia is infected with a sexually-transmitted mite (the STD), Parobia captivus. Infection rate over three beetle generations (7 months) was determined and the STD’s effects on fertility, fecundity, longevity, mating success and overwintering survival was measured. Throughout the season around 40% of beetles were infected, with approximately one quarter of such hosts carrying infective life stages of the STD at any one time. Infection by P. captivus significantly decreased overwintering survival, but did not impact on other fitness parameters measured, including mate acceptance. However, more female beetles were infected than male beetles, while within both sexes larger beetles were more likely to be infected. Our results concur with theoretical predictions that STDs may be selected for low virulence and low detectability, while the observation of female bias in infection supports hypotheses regarding variable mating success and mating skews, which we discuss.

Keywords

Chrysomelidae Chrysophtharta Parobia Podapolipidae