Assessment of correlational selection on tolerance and resistance traits in a host plant–parasitic plant interaction

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Resistance and tolerance are considered to be different plant strategies against disease. While resistance traits prevent hosts becoming parasitized or reduce the extent of parasitism, tolerance traits reduce the fitness-impact of parasitism on infected hosts. Theoretical considerations predict that in some circumstances mutual redundancy will give hosts with either high resistance or high tolerance a fitness advantage over hosts that exhibit both of these traits together. However, empirical evidence has provided mixed results. In this paper, I describe the pattern of phenotypic selection imposed by the holoparasitic mistletoe Tristerix aphyllus upon resistance (spine length) and tolerance (branching) traits in the cactus Echinopsis chilensis. Results indicate that branching was an efficient compensatory mechanism, reducing 75.5% of the fitness-impact attributable to parasitism. Even though both traits showed a negative correlation, as expected from the presence of allocation costs between strategies, no correlational selection coefficient was significant indicating that selection did not favor alternative combinations of traits. Consequently, I did not find evidence for selection promoting mutually exclusive defense strategies against the mistletoe, which suggests that tolerance and resistance traits may coexist stably in populations of E. chilensis.

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