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J Evol Biol. 2007 Sep;20(5):1665-73.

Detecting local adaptation in a natural plant-pathogen metapopulation: a laboratory vs. field transplant approach.

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Metapopulation Research Group, Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences, University of Helsinki, Finland.


Antagonistic coevolution between hosts and parasites in spatially structured populations can result in local adaptation of parasites. Traditionally parasite local adaptation has been investigated in field transplant experiments or in the laboratory under a constant environment. Despite the conceptual importance of local adaptation in studies of (co)evolution, to date no study has provided a comparative analysis of these two methods. Here, using information on pathogen population dynamics, I tested local adaptation of the specialist phytopathogen, Podosphaera plantaginis, to its host, Plantago lanceolata at three different spatial scales: sympatric host population, sympatric host metapopulation and allopatric host metapopulations. The experiment was carried out as a field transplant experiment with greenhouse-reared host plants from these three different origins introduced into four pathogen populations. In contrast to results of an earlier study performed with these same host and parasite populations under laboratory conditions, I did not find any evidence for parasite local adaptation. For interactions governed by strain-specific resistance, field studies may not be sensitive enough to detect mean parasite population virulence. Given that parasite transmission potential may be mediated by the abiotic environment and genotype-by-environment interactions, I suggest that relevant environmental variation should be incorporated into laboratory studies of parasite local adaptation.

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