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Does genetic diversity protect host populations from parasites? A meta-analysis across natural and agricultural systems

Citation

Gibson, Amanda; Nguyen, Anna (2020), Does genetic diversity protect host populations from parasites? A meta-analysis across natural and agricultural systems, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.dv41ns1wg

Abstract

If parasites transmit more readily between closely related hosts, then parasite burdens should decrease with increased genetic diversity of host populations. This important hypothesis is often accepted at face value - notorious epidemics of crop monocultures testify to the vulnerability of host populations that have been purged of diversity. Yet the relationship between genetic diversity and parasitism likely varies across contexts, differing between crop and non-crop hosts and between experimental and natural host populations. Here, we used a meta-analytic approach to ask if host diversity confers protection against parasites over the range of contexts in which it has been tested.

We synthesized the results of 102 studies, comprising 2,004 effect sizes representing a diversity of approaches and host-parasite systems. Our results validate a protective effect of genetic diversity, while revealing significant variation in its strength across biological and empirical contexts. In experimental host populations, genetic diversity reduces parasitism by ~20% for non-crop hosts and by ~50% for crop hosts. In contrast, observational studies of natural host populations show no consistent relationship between genetic diversity and parasitism, with both strong negative and positive correlations reported. This result supports the idea that, if parasites preferentially attack close relatives, the correlation of genetic diversity with parasitism could be positive or negative depending upon the potential for host populations to evolve in response to parasite selection. Taken together, these results reinforce genetic diversity as a priority for both conservation and agriculture and emphasize the challenges inherent to drawing comparisons between controlled experimental populations and dynamic natural populations.