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Science. 2003 Mar 14;299(5613):1735-7.

Evolution of virulence in a plant host-pathogen metapopulation.

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  • 1Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO)-Plant Industry, Centre for Plant Biodiversity Research, General Post Office Box 1600, Canberra, ACT 2601, Australia.


In a wild plant-pathogen system, host resistance and pathogen virulence varied markedly among local populations. Broadly virulent pathogens occurred more frequently in highly resistant host populations, whereas avirulent pathogens dominated susceptible populations. Experimental inoculations indicated a negative trade-off between spore production and virulence. The nonrandom spatial distribution of pathogens, maintained through time despite high pathogen mobility, implies that selection favors virulent strains of Melampsora lini in resistant Linum marginale populations and avirulent strains in susceptible populations. These results are consistent with gene-for-gene models of host-pathogen coevolution that require trade-offs to prevent pathogen virulence increasing until host resistance becomes selectively neutral.

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