Evolutionary consequences of viral resistance in the marine picoeukaryote Ostreococcus tauri
Heath, Sarah E.
In marine environments, eukaryotic marine microalgae coexist with the viruses that infect them. Marine microalgae are the main primary producers in the oceans and are at the base of the marine food web. Viruses play important roles in top-down control of algae populations, cycling of organic matter, and as evolutionary drivers of their hosts. Algae must adapt in response to the strong selection pressure that viruses impose for resistance to infection. In addition to biotic selection pressures such as viral infections, algae must also adapt to their abiotic environment. Global climate change is affecting temperature, salinity, pH, light and nutrient concentrations in the oceans, particularly in surface waters, where microalgae live. Currently, little is known about how consistent the effects of viruses on their hosts are, whether the cost of host resistance varies across environments, and whether there is a trade-off between maintaining resistance to viruses and adapting to other environmental changes. The marine picoeukaryote Ostreococcus tauri is abundant in Mediterranean lagoons, where it experiences large fluctuations in environmental conditions and co-occurs with lytic viruses (Ostreococcus tauri viruses – OtVs). Viral infection causes lysis of susceptible (S) cells, however a small proportion of cells are resistant (R) and avoid lysis. Some resistant O. tauri populations can coexist with infectious viruses, and it has been proposed that these viruses are produced by a minority of susceptible cells within a mainly resistant population. These populations are referred to as resistant producers (RP). Virus production in RP populations is unstable and eventually they shift to R populations. I used O. tauri and one of its viruses, OtV5, as a model system to investigate whether cells that are susceptible or resistant to virus infection adapt to environmental change differently and whether there is a cost of being resistant. For the first time, I evolved susceptible and resistant hosts of a marine alga separately under a range of environments and directly compared their plastic and evolved responses. I showed that resistant populations of O. tauri maintained their resistance for more than 200 generations in the absence of viruses across all environments, indicating that the resistance mechanism is difficult to reverse. Furthermore, I did not detect a cost of being resistant, as measured by population growth rate and competitive ability. Virus production in RP populations stopped in all environments and all populations became R. In addition, I found that virus production in RP O. tauri populations can fluctuate before completely ceasing, and that phosphate affected the length of time it took for virus production to stop. These results, combined with mathematical modelling of O. tauri infection dynamics, provide support for the prediction that RP populations consist of a mixed population of susceptible and resistant cells. By examining multiple environments and resistance types, we can better understand first, how microalgae populations adapt to environmental change and second, the ecological and evolutionary consequences of maintaining resistance to viruses in common marine picoeukaryotes.