Natural variation in the genetic architecture of a host–parasite interaction in the bumblebee Bombus terrestris


Lena Wilfert, Fax: (41) 44 6321271; E-mail:


The genetic architecture of fitness-relevant traits in natural populations is a topic that has remained almost untouched by quantitative genetics. Given the importance of parasitism for the host's fitness, we used QTL mapping to study the genetic architecture of traits relevant for host–parasite interactions in the trypanosome parasite, Crithidia bombi and its host, Bombus terrestris. The three traits analysed were the parasite's infection intensity, the strength of the general immune response (measured as the encapsulation of a novel antigen) and body size. The genetic architecture of these traits was examined in three natural, unmanipulated mapping populations of B. terrestris. Our results indicate that the intracolonial phenotypic variation of all three traits is based on a network of QTLs and epistatic interactions. While these networks are similar between mapping populations in complexity and number of QTLs, as well as in their epistatic interactions, the variability in the position of QTL and the interacting loci was high. Only one QTL for body size was plausibly found in at least two populations. QTLs for encapsulation and Crithidia infection intensity were located on the same linkage groups.