Relatedness affects competitive performance of a parasitic plant (Cuscuta europaea) in multiple infections

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Abstract

Theoretical models predict that parasite relatedness affects the outcome of competition between parasites, and the evolution of parasite virulence. We examined whether parasite relatedness affects competition between parasitic plants (Cuscuta europaea) that share common host plants (Urtica dioica). We infected hosts with two parasitic plants that were either half-siblings or nonrelated. Relative size asymmetry between the competing parasites was significantly higher in the nonrelated infections compared to infections with siblings. This higher asymmetry was caused by the fact that the performance of some parasite genotypes decreased and that of others increased when grown in multiple infections with nonrelated parasites. This result agrees with the predictions of theories on the evolution of parasite virulence: to enhance parasite transmission, selection may favour reduced competition with genetically related parasites in hosts infected by several genotypes. However, in contrast to the most common predictions, nonrelated infections were not more virulent than the sibling infections.

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