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Fitness and eco-physiological response of a chytrid fungal parasite infecting planktonic cyanobacteria to thermal and host genotype variation

  • Ramsy Agha (a1), Alina Gross (a1) (a2), Melanie Gerphagnon (a1), Thomas Rohrlack (a3) and Justyna Wolinska (a1) (a2)...

Understanding how individual parasite traits contribute to overall fitness, and how they are modulated by both external and host environment, is crucial for predicting disease outcome. Fungal (chytrid) parasites of phytoplankton are important yet poorly studied pathogens with the potential to modulate the abundance and composition of phytoplankton communities and to drive their evolution. Here, we studied life-history traits of a chytrid parasite infecting the planktonic, bloom-forming cyanobacterium Planktothrix spp. under host genotype and thermal variation. When expressing parasite fitness in terms of transmission success, disease outcome was largely modulated by temperature alone. Yet, a closer examination of individual parasite traits linked to different infection phases, such as (i) the establishment of the infection (i.e. intensity of infection) and (ii) the exploitation of host resources (i.e. size of reproductive structures and propagules), revealed differential host genotype and temperature × host genotype modulation, respectively. This illustrates how parasite fitness results from the interplay of individual parasite traits that are differentially controlled by host and external environment, and stresses the importance of combining multiple traits to gain insights into underlying infection mechanisms.

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Author for correspondence: Ramsy Agha, E-mail:
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