Letter

Nature 450, 870-873 (6 December 2007) | doi:10.1038/nature06291; Received 1 June 2007; Accepted 21 September 2007; Published online 14 November 2007

Host–parasite 'Red Queen' dynamics archived in pond sediment

Ellen Decaestecker1,3, Sabrina Gaba4,5, Joost A. M. Raeymaekers1,2, Robby Stoks1, Liesbeth Van Kerckhoven1, Dieter Ebert4,6 & Luc De Meester1,6

  1. Laboratory of Aquatic Ecology and Evolutionary Biology,
  2. Laboratory for Animal Biodiversity and Systematics, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Charles de Bériotstraat 32, 3000 Leuven, Belgium
  3. Interdisciplinary Research Center (IRC), Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Campus Kortrijk, Etienne Sabbelaan 53, 8500 Kortrijk, Belgium
  4. Universität Basel, Zoologisches Institut, Evolutionsbiologie, Vesalgasse 1, 4053 Basel, Switzerland
  5. Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (INRA), UR1282, Infectiologie Animale et Santé Publique, Nouzilly, F-37380, France
  6. These authors contributed equally to this work.

Correspondence to: Ellen Decaestecker1,3 Correspondence and requests for materials should be addressed to E.D. (Email: ellen.decaestecker@kuleuven-kortrijk.be).

Antagonistic interactions between hosts and parasites are a key structuring force in natural populations, driving coevolution1, 2. However, direct empirical evidence of long-term host–parasite coevolution, in particular 'Red Queen' dynamics—in which antagonistic biotic interactions such as host–parasite interactions can lead to reciprocal evolutionary dynamics—is rare3, 4, 5, and current data, although consistent with theories of antagonistic coevolution, do not reveal the temporal dynamics of the process6. Dormant stages of both the water flea Daphnia and its microparasites are conserved in lake sediments, providing an archive of past gene pools. Here we use this fact to reconstruct rapid coevolutionary dynamics in a natural setting and show that the parasite rapidly adapts to its host over a period of only a few years. A coevolutionary model based on negative frequency-dependent selection, and designed to mimic essential aspects of our host–parasite system, corroborated these experimental results. In line with the idea of continuing host–parasite coevolution, temporal variation in parasite infectivity changed little over time. In contrast, from the moment the parasite was first found in the sediments, we observed a steady increase in virulence over time, associated with higher fitness of the parasite.

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