Background: The dynamics of antagonistic host-parasite coevolution are believed to be crucially dependent on the rate of migration between populations. We addressed how the rate of simultaneous migration of host and parasite affected resistance and infectivity evolution of coevolving meta-populations of the bacterium Pseudomonas fluorescens and a viral parasite (bacteriophage). The increase in genetic variation resulting from small amounts of migration is expected to increase rates of adaptation of both host and parasite. However, previous studies suggest phages should benefit more from migration than bacteria; because in the absence of migration, phages are more genetically limited and have a lower evolutionary potential compared to the bacteria.
Results: The results supported the hypothesis: migration increased the resistance of bacteria to their local (sympatric) hosts. Moreover, migration benefited phages more than hosts with respect to 'global' (measured with respect to the whole range of migration regimes) patterns of resistance and infectivity, because of the differential evolutionary responses of bacteria and phage to different migration regimes. Specifically, we found bacterial global resistance peaked at intermediate rates of migration, whereas phage global infectivity plateaued when migration rates were greater than zero.
Conclusion: These results suggest that simultaneous migration of hosts and parasites can dramatically affect the interaction of host and parasite. More specifically, the organism with the lower evolutionary potential may gain the greater evolutionary advantage from migration.