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Rapid evolution of parasite life history traits on an expanding range-edge




Ecology Letters (2012) 15: 329–337


Parasites of invading species undergoing range advance may be exposed to powerful new selective forces. Low host density in range-edge populations hampers parasite transmission, requiring the parasite to survive longer periods in the external environment before encountering a potential host. These conditions should favour evolutionary shifts in offspring size to maximise parasite transmission. We conducted a common-garden experiment to compare life history traits among seven populations of the nematode lungworm (Rhabdias pseudosphaerocephala) spanning from the parasite population core to the expanding range-edge in invasive cane toads (Rhinella marina) in tropical Australia. Compared to conspecifics from the population core, nematodes from the range-edge exhibited larger eggs, larger free-living adults and larger infective larvae, and reduced age at maturity in parasitic adults. These results support a priori predictions regarding adaptive changes in offspring size as a function of invasion history, and suggest that parasite life history traits can evolve rapidly in response to the selective forces exerted by a biological invasion.

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