• Allelic polymorphism;
  • coexistence;
  • Cryphonectria Hypovirus;
  • Cryphonectria parasitica;
  • fungi;
  • mycovirus;
  • parasite-mediated selection;
  • self/non-self recognition systems;
  • vegetative fusion;
  • virulence evolution

Ecology Letters (2011) 14: 444–452


In fungi, horizontal transmission of deleterious cytoplasmic elements is reduced by the vegetative incompatibility system. This self/non-self recognition system may select for greater diversity of fungal incompatibility phenotypes in a frequency-dependent manner but the link between the diversity of fungal phenotypes and the virulence of cytoplasmic parasites has been poorly studied. We used an epidemiological model to show that even when transmission between incompatibility types is permitted, parasite pressure can lead to high levels of polymorphism for vegetative incompatibility systems. Moreover, high levels of polymorphism in host populations can select for less virulent cytoplasmic parasites. This feedback mechanism between parasite virulence and vegetative incompatibility system polymorphism of host populations may account for the general avirulence of most known mycoviruses. Furthermore, this mechanism provides a new perspective on the particular ecology and evolution of the host/parasite interactions acting between fungi and their cytoplasmic parasites.