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Am Nat. 2009 Jul;174 Suppl 1:S43-53. doi: 10.1086/599080.

The maintenance of sex, clonal dynamics, and host-parasite coevolution in a mixed population of sexual and asexual snails.

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1EAWAG, Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology, Uberlandstrasse 133, 8600 Dübendorf, Switzerland.


Sexual populations should be vulnerable to invasion and replacement by ecologically similar asexual females because asexual lineages have higher per capita growth rates. However, as asexual genotypes become common, they may also become disproportionately infected by parasites. The Red Queen hypothesis postulates that high infection rates in the common asexual clones could periodically favor the genetically diverse sexual individuals and promote the short-term coexistence of sexual and asexual populations. Testing this idea requires comparison of competing sexual and asexual lineages that are attacked by natural parasites. To date no such data have been available. Here, we report on long-term dynamics and parasite coevolution in a "mixed" (sexual and asexual) population of snails (Potamopyrgus antipodarum). We found that, within 7-10 years, the most common clones were almost completely replaced by initially rare clones in two different habitats, while sexuals persisted throughout the study period. The common clones, which were initially more resistant to infection, also became more susceptible to infection by sympatric (but not allopatric) parasites over the course of the study. These results are consistent with the Red Queen hypothesis and show that the coevolutionary dynamics predicted by the theory may also favor sexual reproduction in natural populations.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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