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Suboptimal Virulence of an Insect-Parasitic Nematode
Vol. 50, No. 6 (Dec., 1996), pp. 2241-2247
Published by: Society for the Study of Evolution
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2410694
Page Count: 7
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Recent considerations of parasite virulence have focused on the adverse effects that parasites can have on the survival of their hosts. Many parasites, however, reduce host fitness by an equally deleterious but different means, by causing partial or complete sterility of their hosts. A model of optimal parasite virulence is developed in which a quantity of host resources can be allocated to either host or parasite reproduction. Increases in parasite reproduction thus cause reductions in host fertility. The model shows that under a wide variety of ecological conditions, such parasites should completely sterilize their hosts. Only when opportunities for horizontal transmission are very limited should the parasites appropriate less than all of a host's reproductive resources. Field and laboratory evidence shows that the nematode parasite Howardula aoronymphium is relatively avirulent to one of its principal host species, Drosophila falleni, whereas it is much more virulent to D. putrida and D. neotestacea, suggesting that there may be substantial vertical transmission in D. falleni. However, epidemiological studies in the field and laboratory assays of host specificity strongly suggest that the three host species share a single parasite pool in natural populations, indicating that parasites in all three host species experience high levels of horizontal transmission. Thus, the low virulence of H. aoronymphium to D. falleni is not consistent with the model of optimal parasite virulence. It is proposed that this suboptimal virulence in D. falleni is a consequence of populations of H. aoronymphium being selected to exploit simultaneously several different host species. As a result, virulence may not be optimal in any one host. One must, therefore, consider the full range of host species in assessing a parasite's virulence.
Evolution © 1996 Society for the Study of Evolution