Tests for Parasite-mediated Frequency-dependent Selection in Natural Populations of an Asexual Plant Species

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Genetic variation in plant populations for resistance to pathogens and herbivores might be maintained by parasite-mediated negative frequency-dependent selection (FDS). But it is difficult to observe the time-lagged oscillations between host and parasite genotypes that should result from FDS. To evaluate the potential for FDS, we tested for local adaptation of parasites to common clones, the role of host genetic diversity in resistance to parasites, and genetic correlations among fitness, parasitism, and the frequency of host clones. We studied three populations of Arabis holboellii, a short-lived apomictic (asexual by seed) plant attacked by rust fungi and insect herbivores. To estimate clone frequency, we used polymorphic allozyme markers on 200 individuals in each population in 1990 and in 2000. We also recorded levels of parasitism and host fitness (fruit production). Only the rust fungi showed evidence for local host adaptation; they usually increased in incidence as a function of clone frequency, and they tracked temporal change in clone frequency. In further support of FDS, parasitism was lower in populations with higher genetic diversity. However, total parasitism (herbivory and disease combined) decreased as host clone frequency and fitness increased. Thus, although the highly virulent rust pathogen showed potential for driving the cycles that result from FDS, this apparently does not occur in the populations studied because the host clones were also attacked by herbivores.

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