• bacteriophage;
  • dispersal evolution;
  • motility;
  • parasite-mediated selection


Dispersal provides the opportunity to escape harm and colonize new patches, enabling populations to expand and persist. However, the benefits of dispersal associated with escaping harm will be dependent on the structure of the environment and the likelihood of escape. Here, we empirically investigate how the spatial distribution of a parasite influences the evolution of host dispersal. Bacteriophages are a strong and common threat for bacteria in natural environments and offer a good system with which to explore parasite-mediated selection on host dispersal. We used two transposon mutants of the opportunistic bacteria, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, which varied in their motility (a disperser and a nondisperser), and the lytic bacteriophage ФKZ. The phage was distributed either in the central point of colony inoculation only, thus offering an escape route for the dispersing bacteria; or, present throughout the agar, where benefits of dispersal might be lost. Surprisingly, we found dispersal to be equally advantageous under both phage conditions relative to when phages were absent. A general explanation is that dispersal decreased the spatial structuring of host population, reducing opportunities for parasite transmission, but other more idiosyncratic mechanisms may also have contributed. This study highlights the crucial role the parasites can play on the evolution of dispersal and, more specifically, that bacteriophages, which are ubiquitous, are likely to select for bacterial motility.