• Epistasis;
  • fitness landscape;
  • genetic architecture;
  • host–parasite coevolution;
  • microsporidian;
  • Nosema whitei

Genetically coupled antagonistic coevolution between host and parasites can select for the maintenance of recombination in the host. Mechanistically, maintenance of recombination relies on epistatic interactions between resistance genes creating linkage disequilibria (LD). The role of epistasis in host resistance traits is however only partly understood. Therefore, we applied the joint scaling principle to assess epistasis and other nonadditive genetic components of two resistance traits, survival, and parasite spore load, in population crosses of the red flour beetle Tribolium castanaeum under infections with the microsporidian Nosema whitei. We found nonadditive components only in infected populations but not in control populations. The genetic architecture underlying survival under parasite infection was more complex than that of spore load. Accordingly, the observed negative correlation between survival and spore load was mainly based on a correlation between shared additive components. Breakdown of resistance was especially strong in F2 crosses between resistant lines indicating that multiple epistatic routes can lead to the same adaptation. In general, the wide range of nonoverlapping genetic components between crosses indicated that parasite resistance in T. castanaeum can be understood as a multi peaked fitness landscape with epistasis contributing substantially to phenotypic differentiation in resistance.