The densities of conspecific individuals may vary through space, especially at the edge of species range. This variation in density is predicted to influence the diffusion of species-specific horizontally transmitted symbionts. However, to date there is very little data on how parasite prevalence varies around the border of a host species. Using a molecular epidemiology approach, we studied the prevalence of a vertically and horizontally transmitted virus at the edge of the geographic range of its insect host, the Drosophila parasitoid wasp Leptopilina boulardi. L. boulardi is a Mediterranean parasitoid species showing a recent range expansion to the north (in France). The LbFV virus manipulates the behaviour of females, increasing their tendency to lay additional eggs in already parasitized Drosophila larvae (superparasitism). This is beneficial for the virus because it allows the virus to be horizontally transferred during superparasitism. We show that LbFV prevalence is very high in central populations, intermediate in marginal populations and almost absent from newly established peripheral populations of L. boulardi. We failed to detect any influence of temperature and diapause on viral transmission efficiency but we observed a clear relationship between prevalence and parasitoid density, and between parasitoid density and the occurrence of superparasitism, as predicted by our epidemiological model. Viral strains were all efficient at inducing the behavioural manipulation and viral gene sequencing revealed very low sequence variation. We conclude that the prevalence reached by the virus critically depends on density-dependent factors, i.e. superparasitism, underlying the selective pressures acting on the virus to manipulate the behaviour of the parasitoid.
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