• coevolution;
  • genotype-by-environment interaction;
  • host–parasite interaction;
  • parasite fitness;
  • Plantago lanceolata


Understanding processes maintaining variation in pathogen life-history stages affecting infectivity and reproduction is a key challenge in evolutionary ecology. Models of host–parasite coevolution are based on the assumption that genetic variation for host–parasite interactions is a significant cause of variation in infection, and that variation in environmental conditions does not overwhelm the genetic basis. However, surprisingly little is known about the stability of genotype–genotype interactions under variable environmental conditions. Here, using a naturally occurring plant–pathogen interaction, I tested whether the two distinct aspects of the infection process – infectivity and transmission potential – vary over realistic nutrient and temperature gradients. I show that the initial pathogen infectivity and host resistance responses are robust over the environmental gradients. However, for compatible responses there were striking differences in how different pathogen life-history stages and host and pathogen genotypes responded to environmental variation. For some pathogen genotypes even slight changes in temperature arrested spore production, rendering the developing infection ineffectual. The response of pathogen genotypes to environmental gradients varied in magnitude and even direction, so that their rankings changed across the abiotic gradients. Hence, the variable environment of spatially structured host–parasite interactions may strongly influence the maintenance of polymorphism in pathogen life-history stages governing transmission, whereas evolutionary trajectories of infectivity may be unaffected by the surrounding environment.