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Keywords:

  • Cryphonectria hypovirus;
  • Cryphonectria parasitica;
  • host–parasite interaction;
  • mycovirus;
  • transmission rate;
  • virulence evolution

Current theory suggests that cost–benefit relationships govern the evolution of parasite virulence. The cost of virulence is expected to be high for fungal viruses, which are obligate parasites and completely dependent on their hosts. The majority of fungal viruses infect their hosts without any apparent symptoms. Cryphonectria hypovirus 1 (CHV-1), in contrast, is virulent and debilitates its host, Cryphonectria parasitica. However, the virulence of CHV-1 is associated with high costs for virus transmission, such as an attenuated fungal growth and reduced production of the fungal spores spreading the virus. In this study, we tested the hypothesis that virulence may not only have costs but also benefits for transmitting CHV-1 across vegetative incompatibility barriers between fungi. We investigated viruses with low, medium, and high virulence, and determined their transmission rate per host-to-host contact (transmissibility). The average transmission rate across all combinations tested was 53% for the most virulent virus, 37% for the virus with intermediate virulence, and 20% for the virus with lowest virulence. These results showed that increased virulence was strongly correlated with increased transmissibility, potentially counterbalancing virulence costs. This association of virulence and transmissibility may explain why CHV-1 spread widely and evolved higher virulence than most other fungal viruses.