Plasticity, not genetic variation, drives infection success of a fungal parasite

C. L. Searle, J. H. Ochs, C. E. Cáceres, S. L. Chiang, N. M. Gerardo, S. R. Hall, M. A. Duffy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Hosts strongly influence parasite fitness. However, it is challenging to disentangle host effects on genetic vs plasticity-driven traits of parasites, since parasites can evolve quickly. It remains especially difficult to determine the causes and magnitude of parasite plasticity. In successive generations, parasites may respond plastically to better infect their current type of host, or hosts may produce generally 'good' or 'bad' quality parasites. Here, we characterized parasite plasticity by taking advantage of a system in which the parasite (the yeast Metschnikowia bicuspidata, which infects Daphnia) has no detectable heritable variation, preventing rapid evolution. In experimental infection assays, we found an effect of rearing host genotype on parasite infectivity, where host genotypes produced overall high or low quality parasite spores. Additionally, these plastically induced differences were gained or lost in just a single host generation. Together, these results demonstrate phenotypic plasticity in infectivity driven by the within-host rearing environment. Such plasticity is rarely investigated in parasites, but could shape epidemiologically important traits.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)839-848
Number of pages10
Issue number6
StatePublished - May 16 2015


  • Daphnia dentifera
  • Key words host-induced variation
  • Metschnikowia bicuspidata
  • host-parasite coevolution
  • infectivity
  • pathogen
  • within-host dynamics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Parasitology
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Infectious Diseases


Dive into the research topics of 'Plasticity, not genetic variation, drives infection success of a fungal parasite'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this