“Sexual conflict and STIs: coevolution of sexually antagonistic host traits with a sexually transmitted infection”

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Alison M. Wardlaw and Aneil F. Agrawal (Jan 2019)

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In many taxa, there is a conflict between the sexes over mating rate. The outcome of sexually antagonistic coevolution depends on the costs of mating and natural selection against sexually antagonistic traits. A sexually transmitted infection (STI) changes the relative strength of these costs. We study the three-way evolutionary interaction between male persistence, female resistance, and STI virulence for two types of STIs: a viability-reducing STI and a reproduction-reducing STI. A viability-reducing STI escalates conflict between the sexes. This leads to increased STI virulence (i.e., full coevolution) if the costs of sexually antagonistic traits occur through viability but not if the costs occur through reproduction. In contrast, a reproduction-reducing STI de-escalates the sexual conflict but STI virulence does not coevolve in response. We also investigated the establishment probability of STIs under different combinations of evolvability. Successful invasion by a viability-reducing STI becomes less likely if hosts (but not parasite) are evolvable, especially if only the female trait can evolve. A reproduction-reducing STI can almost always invade because it does not kill its host. We discuss how the evolution of host and parasite traits in a system with sexual conflict differs from a system with female mate choice.