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Int J Parasitol. 2005 Jan;35(1):29-37. Epub 2004 Dec 10.

Geographic and within-population structure in variable resistance to parasite species and strains in a vertebrate host.

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School of Biology, University of Nottingham, Nottingham NG7 2RD, UK.


Host resistance to parasites and parasite infectivity may be subject to significant genetically determined variation within species. However, relatively little is known of how this variability is structured in natural vertebrate populations and their macroparasites. A laboratory experiment on host susceptibility-parasite infectivity variation in a wildlife host-parasite system (subspecies of the anuran X. laevis and their polystome flatworms), including 33 pairwise allopatric and sympatric host-parasite combinations (three parasite geographical isolates x 11 host full-sibling families, n=600), revealed a complex pattern of infection success. Results amongst host sibships from different localities suggested that infection success was subject to a highly significant locality x parasite isolate interaction. Within localities, a highly significant sibship x isolate interaction also occurred in one of two groups of sibships examined. The existence of such interactions suggests a potential for frequency-dependent, Red Queen-like selection. Interaction between locality and isolate was partly due to higher infection levels in sympatric combinations, consistent with a general pattern of host-specific adaptation. However, some allopatric combinations produced unpredictably high infection levels, resulting in very asymmetrical cross-infectivity patterns (where the reciprocal cross-infections produced negligible infection). This phylogeographically structured host-parasite system may, therefore, sometimes generate local parasite strains with high infectivity to allopatric hosts. Secondary contact between populations could thus result in significant, and unequal, transfer of parasites.

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