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Ecology directs host–parasite coevolutionary trajectories across Daphnia–microparasite populations


Host–parasite interactions often fuel coevolutionary change. However, parasitism is one of a myriad of possible ecological interactions in nature. Biotic (for example, predation) and abiotic (for example, temperature) variation can amplify or dilute parasitism as a selective force on hosts and parasites, driving population variation in (co)evolutionary trajectories. We dissected the relationships between wider ecology and coevolutionary trajectory using 16 ecologically complex Daphnia magnaPasteuria ramosa ponds seeded with an identical starting host (Daphnia) and parasite (Pasteuria) population. We show, using a time-shift experiment and outdoor population data, how multivariate biotic and abiotic ecological differences between ponds caused coevolutionary divergence. Wider ecology drove variation in host evolution of resistance, but not parasite infectivity; parasites subsequently coevolved in response to the changing complement of host genotypes, such that parasites adapted to historically resistant host genotypes. Parasitism was a stronger interaction for the parasite than for its host, probably because the host is the principal environment and selective force, whereas for hosts, parasite-mediated selection is one of many sources of selection. Our findings reveal the mechanisms through which wider ecology creates coevolutionary hotspots and coldspots in biologically realistic arenas of host–parasite interaction, and sheds light on how the ecological theatre can affect the (co)evolutionary play.

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Fig. 1: Coevolutionary trajectories vary across populations.
Fig. 2: Pairwise ecological differences explain population divergence in coevolutionary trajectory.
Fig. 3: Wider ecology drives coevolution through its effects on host evolution.
Fig. 4: Ecological, epidemiological and coevolutionary relationships across populations.

Data availability

All data are available on Dryad at

Code availability

All companion code is available on Dryad at As we are actively researching these datasets, we ask that researchers kindly contact us if they are planning to use the data for reasons other than reproducing the findings of our paper.


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We thank M. Tinsley, S. Thackeray and the Stirling Eco-Evo group for comments on this manuscript. This work was supported by NERC Independent Research Fellowship (NE/L011549/1) and Royal Society Research Grant (RG130657) to S.K.J.R.A.

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Authors and Affiliations



Conceptualization: S.K.J.R.A.; data curation: S.K.J.R.A.; formal analysis: S.P. and S.K.J.R.A.; funding acquisition: S.K.J.R.A.; investigation: S.P., J.B. and S.K.J.R.A.; methodology: S.P., J.B. and S.K.J.R.A.; supervision: S.K.J.R.A.; writing original draft: S.P. and S.K.J.R.A.; writing, review and editing: all authors.

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Correspondence to Stuart K. J. R. Auld.

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Paplauskas, S., Brand, J. & Auld, S.K.J.R. Ecology directs host–parasite coevolutionary trajectories across Daphnia–microparasite populations. Nat Ecol Evol 5, 480–486 (2021).

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