Should sex ratio distorting parasites abandon horizontal transmission?

Joseph E. Ironside, Judith E. Smith, Melanie J. Hatcher, Alison M. Dunn

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Background: Sex-ratio distorting parasites are of interest due to their effects upon host population dynamics and their potential to influence the evolution of host sex determination systems. In theory, the ability to distort host sex-ratios allows a parasite with efficient vertical (hereditary) transmission to dispense completely with horizontal (infectious) transmission. However, recent empirical studies indicate that some sex-ratio distorting parasites have retained the capability for horizontal transmission. Results: Numerical simulations using biologically realistic parameters suggest that a feminising parasite is only likely to lose the capability for horizontal transmission if its host occurs at low density and/or has a male-biased primary sex ratio. It is also demonstrated that even a small amount of horizontal transmission can allow multiple feminising parasites to coexist within a single host population. Finally it is shown that, by boosting its host's rate of population growth, a feminising parasite can increase its own horizontal transmission and allow the invasion of other, more virulent parasites. Conclusions: The prediction that sex-ratio distorting parasites are likely to retain a degree of horizontal transmission has important implications for the epidemiology and host-parasite interactions of these organisms. It may also explain the frequent co-occurrence of several sex-ratio distorting parasite species in nature.
Original languageEnglish
Article number370
Number of pages12
JournalBMC Evolutionary Biology
Publication statusPublished - 21 Dec 2011


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