Ecology Letters (2012)
Epidemiology in host meta-populations depends on parasite ability to disperse between, establish and persist in distinct sub-populations of hosts. We studied the genetic factors determining the short-term establishment, and long-term maintenance, of pathogens introduced by infected hosts (i.e. carriers) into recipient populations. We used experimental populations of the freshwater ciliate Paramecium caudatum and its bacterial parasite Holospora undulata. Parasite short-term spread (approximately one horizontal transmission cycle) was affected mainly by carrier genotype, and its interactions with parasite and recipient genotypes. By contrast, parasite longer term spread (2–3 horizontal transmission cycles) was mostly determined by parasite isolate. Importantly, measures of parasite short-term success (reproductive number, R) were not good predictors for longer term prevalence, probably because of the specific interactions between host and parasite genotypes. Analogous to variation in vectorial capacity and super-spreader occurrence, two crucial components of epidemiology, we show that carrier genotype can also affect disease spread within meta-populations.