Geographic variation in sterilizing parasite species and the Red Queen
King KC., Lively CM.
The Red Queen hypothesis predicts that sexual reproduction should be favoured in locations where the risk of infection by virulent parasites is consistently high. When hosts are exposed to multiple parasites over their geographic range, the coevolving parasite species may vary among host populations. We surveyed 26 streams on the South Island of New Zealand to determine whether the frequency of snails (Potamopyrgus antipodarum) infected by various sterilizing trematode parasite species was correlated with the frequency of sexual individuals. We compared the results with a survey conducted over 20 years ago to determine whether the associations were consistent. We also evaluated different measures of parasite-mediated selection among populations, including prevalence of the most common local parasite (MCLP) species and parasite diversity to assess the best predictor of sexual reproduction among stream populations. The results showed that the relationship between male frequency and parasite infection is more geographically widespread than previously recorded. Additionally, we found that the prevalence of the MCLP was the best predictor of sex in habitats where hosts populations are infected with multiple parasites (approximately 15 trematode species). This study provides evidence that sexual snails occur more often in environments with high infection levels, and that the pattern of parasite-imposed selection is geographically variable. Support for the Red Queen may be strengthened by focussing on the MCLP, which may vary among host populations.