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Keywords:

  • Adaptive landscape;
  • geographic mosaic;
  • Holospora undulata;
  • K-selection;
  • Paramecium caudatum;
  • r-selection;
  • trade-off

In parasites with mixed modes of transmission, ecological conditions may determine the relative importance of vertical and horizontal transmission for parasite fitness. This may lead to differential selection pressure on the efficiency of the two modes of transmission and on parasite virulence. In populations with high birth rates, increased opportunities for vertical transmission may select for higher vertical transmissibility and possibly lower virulence. We tested this idea in experimental populations of the protozoan Paramecium caudatum and its bacterial parasite Holospora undulata. Serial dilution produced constant host population growth and frequent vertical transmission. Consistent with predictions, evolved parasites from this “high-growth” treatment had higher fidelity of vertical transmission and lower virulence than parasites from host populations constantly kept near their carrying capacity (“low-growth treatment”). High-growth parasites also produced fewer, but more infectious horizontal transmission stages, suggesting the compensation of trade-offs between vertical and horizontal transmission components in this treatment. These results illustrate how environmentally driven changes in host demography can promote evolutionary divergence of parasite life history and transmission strategies.