According to the geographic mosaic theory of coevolution (GMTC), clines of traits reflecting local co-adaptation (including resistance genes) should be common between a host and its parasite and should persist across time. To test the GMTC-assumption of persistent clinal patterns we compared the natural prevalence of two parasites on aspen Populus tremula trees: mining moths of the genus Phyllocnistis and leaf rust Melampsora spp. Damage data were collated from the Swedish National Forest Damage Inventory (2004–2006). In addition, occurrence of the parasites was scored in field conditions in two common gardens in the north and south of Sweden over five growing seasons (2004–2008), then related to biomass (stem height and diameter) and to concentrations of eleven leaf phenolics. Phyllocnistis mainly occurred in the northern garden, a distribution range which was confirmed by the countrywide inventory, although Phyllocnistis was more abundant on southern clones, providing evidence for possible local maladaptation. Melampsora occurred all over the country and in both gardens, but built up more quickly on northern clones, which suggests a centre of local clone maladaptation in the north. Stem growth also followed a clinal pattern as did the concentration of three phenolic compounds: benzoic acid, catechin and cinnamic acid. However, only benzoic acid was related to parasite presence: negatively to Phyllocnistis and positively to Melampsora and it could thus be a potential trait under selection.
In conclusion, clines of Phyllocnistis were stronger and more persistent compared to Melampsora, which showed contrasting clines of varying strength. Our data thus support the assumption of the GMTC model that clines exist in the border between hot and cold spots and that they may be less persistent for parasites with an elevated gene flow, and/or for parasites which cover relatively larger hot spots surrounded by fewer cold spots.