Resist Globally, Infect Locally: A Transcontinental Test of Adaptation by Stickleback and Their Tapeworm Parasite.


Parasite infections are a product of both ecological processes affecting host-parasite encounter rates and evolutionary dynamics affecting host susceptibility. However, few studies examine natural infection variation from both ecological and evolutionary perspectives. Here, we describe the ecological and evolutionary factors generating variation in infection rates by a tapeworm (Schistocephalus solidus) in a vertebrate host, the threespine stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus). To explore ecological aspects of infection, we measured tapeworm prevalence in Canadian stickleback inhabiting two distinct environments: marine and freshwater. Consistent with ecological control of infection, the tapeworm is very rare in marine environments, even though marine fish are highly susceptible. Conversely, commonly infected freshwater stickleback exhibit substantial resistance in controlled laboratory trials, suggesting that high exposure risk overwhelms their recently evolved resistance. We also tested for parasite adaptation to its host by performing transcontinental reciprocal infections, using stickleback and tapeworm populations from Europe and western Canada. More infections occurred in same-continent host-parasite combinations, indicating parasite "local" adaptation, at least on the scale of continents. However, the recently evolved immunity of freshwater hosts applies to both local and foreign parasites. The pattern of adaptation described here is not wholly compatible with either of the common models of host-parasite coevolution (i.e., matching infection or targeted recognition). Instead, we propose a hybrid, eco-evolutionary model to explain the remarkable pattern of global host resistance and local parasite infectivity.

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