How a complex life cycle can improve a parasite's sex life


Gisep Rauch, Max-Planck-Institute for Limnology, Department of Evolutionary Ecology, August-Thienemann-Str. 2, 24306 Plön, Germany.
Tel.: +49 4522 763252; fax: +49 4522 763310;


How complex life cycles of parasites are maintained is still a fascinating and unresolved topic. Complex life cycles using three host species, free-living stages, asexual and sexual reproduction are widespread in parasitic helminths. For such life cycles, we propose here that maintaining a second intermediate host in the life cycle can be advantageous for the individual parasite to increase the intermixture of different clones and therefore decrease the risk of matings between genetically identical individuals in the definitive host. Using microsatellite markers, we show that clone mixing occurs from the first to the second intermediate host in natural populations of the eye-fluke Diplostomum pseudospathaceum. Most individuals released by the first intermediate host belonged to one clone. In contrast, the second intermediate host was infected with a diverse array of mostly unique parasite genotypes. The proposed advantage of increased parasite clone intermixture may be a novel selection pressure favouring the maintenance of complex life cycles.