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The scale of competition impacts parasite virulence evolution

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Abstract

The structure of parasite populations can have important consequences for virulence evolution. Both the scale of competition, whether it is more intense in the within versus between host environment, and the mode of transmission, whether parasites transmit alone or in groups between hosts, influence population structure and can select for changes in virulence.

In a selection experiment, we evolved metapopulations of the spider mite parasite Tetranychus urticae, under local (fixed sampling per host patch) or global (sampling determined by host patch productivity) competition, with either co- (with a female parasite from the same host patch) or random (with parasites from different host patches) transmission. After 33 generations of evolution, the fecundity and virulence of each replicate population was measured.

Females from the ‘local-random’ regime were more virulent with higher fecundity than females from the ‘global-random’ regime. There was no difference in virulence or fecundity between females from the ‘global-random’ or ‘global co-transmission’ selection regimes.

These results show that the scale of competition, and not the type of transmission, impacted virulence evolution for T. urticae. Local competition may maintain higher levels of genetic diversity at the level of the metapopulation. As such, intense local, within-host, competition selected for more productive individuals better able to exploit their environment and be the one to transmit to a new host.

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Availability of data

The dataset for this study is available in the Zenodo repository doi.10.5281/zenodo.6784690.

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Acknowledgements

We would like to thank Oliver Kaltz and Giacomo Zilio for very helpful comments and discussion, two anonymous reviewers who provided comments that greatly improved the manuscript and people in the Experimental Evolution of Communities team for stimulating discussion.

Funding

This work was funded by a joint grant from the Agence Nationale de la Recherche and the Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia to Isabelle Olivieri and Sara Magalhães (FCT-ANR/BIA- EVF/0013/2012) and an ERC consolidator grant to Sara Magalhães (COMPCON GA 725419). This is ISEM contribution number ISEM 2022-161.

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ABD conceived of the idea for the experiment and wrote the manuscript. SL and ABD performed the experiment. EL, MV and ABD analysed the data.

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Correspondence to Alison B. Duncan.

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Noël, E., Lefèvre, S., Varoqui, M. et al. The scale of competition impacts parasite virulence evolution. Evol Ecol 37, 153–163 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10682-022-10199-0

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10682-022-10199-0

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