Infection outcomes under genetic and environmental variation in a host-parasite system: Implications for maintenance of polymorphism and the evolution of virulence
Ferreira do Vale, Pedro Filipe
Virulence (the harm to the host during infection) is the outcome of continuous coevolution between hosts and parasites. This thesis adds to a growing body of work on host-parasite interactions, and describes experiments that study the effects of variation in the genetic and the environmental contexts of infection. All of them focus on interaction between the planktonic freshwater crustacean Daphnia magna and a naturally occurring parasite, the spore-forming bacterium Pasteuria ramosa. I show that elevated minimum temperatures that facilitate parasite growth drive natural epidemics of this parasite. I also demonstrate that the expression of infection traits in P. ramosa is temperature-dependent in a genotype-specific manner [genotype-by-environment (GxE) interactions]. These GxE interactions could maintain polymorphism through environment-dependent selection. Next, I test if GxG interactions for infectivity can be altered by environmental variation (GxGxE interactions), and find that this trait is quite robust to thermal variation. Infectivity is also more important in determining parasite fitness relative to the production of transmission stages, highlighting the importance of considering natural infection routes, an aspect sometimes overlooked in studies of host-parasite systems. Another experiment under different food and temperature regimes showed evidence for environment-dependent virulence-transmission relationships, a fundamental component of virulence evolution models. Lastly, I show that variation in temperature does not increase the cost to the host of resisting infection.