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Keywords:

  • Wolbachia;
  • cytoplasmic incompatibility;
  • bacterial load;
  • evolution

Abstract

In some species displaying Wolbachia-induced cytoplasmic incompatibility, the intensity of incompatibility depends on the density of symbionts in both parents. Although modalities of the transmission process are poorly known, it appears that the density of Wolbachia within the offspring of a female is variable and is correlated with that of the mother. Assuming that the infection level of an host is a continuous trait, we examine some theoretical consequences of the Wolbachia transmission process on the evolution of the infection level within a population. The hypotheses of this model concern two main points: the transmission of Wolbachia is affected by stochastic processes and a deterministic bias, and the bacterial load of the parents of a cross affects their compatibility relationships. It is shown that the variance of the number of bacteria transmitted induced by the stochastic processes tends to counteract the effect of bacterial curing on the dynamics of infection. A general consequence of the model is that the extinction of Wolbachia is possible even if there is strong incompatibility and no selective disadvantage for the host to bear the bacteria. The model indicates that the evolution of bacterial mutants does not depend on the level of incompatibility they induce, but that mutants with higher transmission variance can be selected for. Moreover, the mean infection level of the host population increases in the presence of such bacteria.