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THE EFFECTS OF MULTIPLE INFECTIONS ON THE EXPRESSION AND EVOLUTION OF VIRULENCE IN A DAPHNIA-ENDOPARASITE SYSTEM

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Abstract

Multiple infections of a host by different strains of the same microparasite are common in nature. Although numerous models have been developed in an attempt to predict the evolutionary effects of intrahost competition, tests of the assumptions of these models are rare and the outcome is diverse. In the present study we examined the outcome of mixed-isolate infections in individual hosts, using a single clone of the waterflea Daphnia magna and three isolates of its semelparous endoparasite Pasteuria ramosa. We exposed individual Daphnia to single- and mixed-isolate infection treatments, both simultaneously and sequentially. Virulence was assessed by monitoring host mortality and fecundity, and parasite spore production was used as a measure of parasite fitness. Consistent with most assumptions, in multiply infected hosts we found that the virulence of mixed infections resembled that of the more virulent competitor, both in simultaneous multiple infections and in sequential multiple infections in which the virulent isolate was first to infect. The more virulent competitor also produced the vast majority of transmission stages. Only when the less virulent isolate was first to infect, the intrahost contest resembled scramble competition, whereby both isolates suffered by producing fewer transmission stages. Surprisingly, mixed-isolate infections resulted in lower fecundity-costs for the hosts, suggesting that parasite competition comes with an advantage for the host relative to single infections. Finally, spore production correlated positively with time-to-host-death. Thus, early-killing of more competitive isolates produces less transmission stages than less virulent, inferior isolates. Our results are consistent with the idea that less virulent parasite lines may be replaced by more virulent strains under conditions with high rates of multiple infections.

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