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Parasitism and host dispersal plasticity in an aquatic model system


Zilio, Giacomo et al. (2021), Parasitism and host dispersal plasticity in an aquatic model system , Dryad, Dataset,


Dispersal is a central determinant of spatial dynamics in communities and ecosystems, and various ecological factors can shape the evolution of constitutive and plastic dispersal behaviours. One important driver of dispersal plasticity is the biotic environment. Parasites, for example, influence the internal condition of infected hosts and define external patch quality. Thus state-dependent dispersal may be determined by infection status and context-dependent dispersal by the abundance of infected hosts in the population. A prerequisite for such dispersal plasticity to evolve is a genetic basis on which natural selection can act. Using interconnected microcosms, we investigated dispersal in experimental populations of the freshwater protist Paramecium caudatum in response to the bacterial parasite Holospora undulata. For a collection of 20 natural host strains, we found substantial variation in constitutive dispersal, and to a lesser degree in dispersal plasticity. First, infection tended to increase or decrease dispersal relative to uninfected controls, depending on strain identity, potentially indicative of state-dependent dispersal plasticity. Infection additionally decreased host swimming speed compared to the uninfected counterparts. Second, for certain strains, there was a weak negative association between dispersal and infection prevalence, such that uninfected hosts tended to disperse less when infection was more frequent in the population, indicating context-dependent dispersal plasticity. Future experiments may test whether the observed differences in dispersal plasticity are sufficiently strong to react to natural selection. The evolution of dispersal plasticity as a strategy to mitigate parasite effects spatially may have important implications for epidemiological dynamics.

Usage Notes

The readme file contains an explanation of each of the variables in the 3 datasets. The information on variable measurements and the experimental details can be found in the associated manuscript referenced above.