The cause of parasitic infection in natural populations of Daphnia (Crustacea : Cladocera): the role of host genetics

T J Little, D Ebert

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Disease patterns in nature may be determined by genetic variation for resistance or by factors, genetic or environmental, which influence the host-parasite encounter rate. Elucidating the cause of natural infection patterns has been a major pursuit of parasitologists, but it also matters for evolutionary biologists because host resistance genes must influence the expression of disease if parasite-mediated selection is to occur. We used a model system in order to disentangle the strict genetic component from other causes of infection in the wild. Using the crustacean Daphnia magna and its sterilizing bacterial parasite Pasteuria ramosa, we tested whether genetic variation for resistance, as determined under controlled conditions, accounted for the distribution of infections within natural populations Specifically, we compared whether the clonally produced great-granddaughters of those individuals that were infected in held samples (but were subsequently 'cured' with antibiotics) were more susceptible than were the great-granddaughters of those individuals that were healthy in field samples. High doses of parasite spores led to increased infection in all four study populations, indicating the importance of encounter rate. Host genetics appeared to be irrelevant to natural infection patterns in one population. However, in three other populations hosts that were healthy in the field had greater genetic-based resistance than hosts that were infected in the field, unambiguously showing the effect of host genetic factors on the expression of disease in the wild.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2037-2042
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B-Biological Sciences
Issue number1457
Publication statusPublished - 22 Oct 2000


  • Infection
  • Selection
  • Parasite
  • Resistance
  • Genetic Variation
  • Coeveolution

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