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Local adaptation to parasite selective pressure: comparing three congeneric co-occurring hosts


Local adaptation may optimize an organism’s investment in defenses in response to the risk of infection by spatially heterogeneous parasites and other natural enemies. However, local adaptation may be constrained if recruitment is decoupled from selective pressure experienced by the parent generation. We predicted that the ability of three intertidal littorinid snail species to defend against trematode parasites would depend on prior levels of population exposure to parasites and on larval dispersal mode, a proxy for population openness. In a common garden experiment, for two snail species with direct development and localized recruitment (Littorina obtusata and Littorina saxatilis), hosts from sites with high trematode infection risk were less susceptible to infection than hosts from low-risk sites. However, this relationship was not apparent for a third host species with broadcast larvae (Littorina littorea), suggesting that broad larval dispersal can impede local adaptation; alternatively, the lack of response in this species could owe to other factors that limited experimental infection in this host. Our findings support that locally recruiting hosts can adapt their defenses to scale with localized infection risk.

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The authors are grateful for the assistance of C. F. Malcolm, J. P. Wares, O. Miura, K. Bockrath, C. Ewers, and S. Budischak, and for helpful feedback from three reviewers. C. L. K. was funded by the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program, and additional funding for M. E. S. and C. L. K. was provided by the Shoals Marine Laboratory Research Internships in Field Science Program. J. E. B. provided funding through a grant from the University of Georgia Office of the Vice President for Research. This is contribution no. 171 of the Shoals Marine Laboratory.

Author contribution statement

C. L. K. and J. E. B. designed the study. M. E. S. and C. L. K. executed the study. C. L. K. and J. E. B. analyzed the data. C. L. K. drafted the manuscript, and all authors contributed substantially to revisions.

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Correspondence to Carolyn L. Keogh.

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Communicated by Pieter Johnson.

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Keogh, C.L., Sanderson, M.E. & Byers, J.E. Local adaptation to parasite selective pressure: comparing three congeneric co-occurring hosts. Oecologia 180, 137–147 (2016).

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  • Ecoimmunology
  • Life history
  • Trematodes
  • Littorina
  • Coevolutionary arms race