Evolution of reproductive parasites with direct fitness benefits

Heredity (Edinb). 2018 Mar;120(3):266-281. doi: 10.1038/s41437-017-0022-5. Epub 2017 Dec 13.


Maternally inherited symbionts such as Wolbachia have long been seen mainly as reproductive parasites, with deleterious effects on host fitness. It is becoming clear, however, that, frequently, these symbionts also have beneficial effects on host fitness, either along with reproductive parasitism or not. Using the examples of cytoplasmic incompatibility (CI) and male-killing (MK), we here analyze the effect of direct fitness benefits on the evolution of reproductive parasites. By means of a simple theoretical framework, we synthesize and extend earlier modeling approaches for CI and MK, which usually ignore fitness benefits. Moreover, our framework is not restricted to a particular mechanism underlying the fitness benefit (e.g., protection against pathogens). We derive invasion conditions and equilibrium frequencies for the different infection scenarios. Our results demonstrate the importance of a symbiont's "effective fecundity" (i.e., the product of the relative fecundity of an infected female and her transmission efficiency) for a symbiont's invasion success. In particular, we adopt the concept of effective fecundity to scenarios where CI and MK co-occur in one host population. We confirm that direct fitness benefits substantially facilitate the invasion and spread of infections (for example, by lowering or removing the invasion threshold) or even make invasion possible in the first place (for example, if reproductive parasitism is weak or absent). Finally, we discuss the role of direct fitness benefits in long-term evolutionary dynamics of reproductive phenotypes and highlight their potential to resolve genetic conflicts between maternally inherited symbionts and their hosts.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution
  • Female
  • Fertility
  • Genetic Fitness*
  • Male
  • Models, Genetic*
  • Parasites / physiology*
  • Reproduction*
  • Symbiosis*