Parasites promote host gene flow in a metapopulation

Altermatt, Florian ; Hottinger, Jürgen ; Ebert, Dieter

In: Evolutionary Ecology, 2007, vol. 21, no. 4, p. 561-575

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    Local adaptation is a powerful mechanism to maintain genetic diversity in subdivided populations. It counteracts the homogenizing effect of gene flow because immigrants have an inferior fitness in the new habitat. This picture may be reversed in host populations where parasites influence the success of immigrating hosts. Here we report two experiments testing whether parasite abundance and genetic background influences the success of host migration among pools in a Daphnia magna metapopulation. In 22 natural populations of D. magna, immigrant hosts were found to be on average more successful when the resident populations experienced high prevalences of a local microsporidian parasite. We then determined whether this success is due to parasitism per se, or the genetic background of the parasites. In a common garden competition experiment, we found that parasites reduced the fitness of their local hosts relatively more than the fitness of allopatric host genotypes. Our experiments are consistent with theoretical predictions based on coevolutionary host-parasite models in metapopulations. A direct consequence of the observed mechanism is an elevated effective migration rate for the host in the metapopulation