Host–parasite local adaptation after experimental coevolution of Caenorhabditis elegans and its microparasite Bacillus thuringiensis

Rebecca D. Schulte, Carsten Makus, Barbara Hasert, Nico K. Michiels, Hinrich Schulenburg


Coevolving hosts and parasites can adapt to their local antagonist. In studies on natural populations, the observation of local adaptation patterns is thus often taken as indirect evidence for coevolution. Based on this approach, coevolution was previously inferred from an overall pattern of either parasite or host local adaptation. Many studies, however, failed to detect such a pattern. One explanation is that the studied system was not subject to coevolution. Alternatively, coevolution occurred, but remained undetected because it took different routes in different populations. In some populations, it is the host that is locally adapted, whereas in others it is the parasite, leading to the absence of an overall local adaptation pattern. Here, we test for overall as well as population-specific patterns of local adaptation using experimentally coevolved populations of the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans and its bacterial microparasite Bacillus thuringiensis. Furthermore, we assessed the importance of random interaction effects using control populations that evolved in the absence of the respective antagonist. Our results demonstrate that experimental coevolution produces distinct local adaptation patterns in different replicate populations, including host, parasite or absence of local adaptation. Our study thus provides experimental evidence of the predictions of the geographical mosaic theory of coevolution, i.e. that the interaction between parasite and host varies across populations.

  • Received January 4, 2011.
  • Accepted January 17, 2011.
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