Does genetic diversity limit disease spread in natural host populations?
King KC., Lively CM.
It is a commonly held view that genetically homogenous host populations are more vulnerable to infection than genetically diverse populations. The underlying idea, known as the 'monoculture effect,' is well documented in agricultural studies. Low genetic diversity in the wild can result from bottlenecks (that is, founder effects), biparental inbreeding or self-fertilization, any of which might increase the risk of epidemics. Host genetic diversity could buffer populations against epidemics in nature, but it is not clear how much diversity is required to prevent disease spread. Recent theoretical and empirical studies, particularly in Daphnia populations, have helped to establish that genetic diversity can reduce parasite transmission. Here, we review the present theoretical work and empirical evidence, and we suggest a new focus on finding 'diversity thresholds.'