Frank, S. A. 1996. Statistical properties of polymorphism in host-parasite genetics. Evolutionary Ecology 10:307-317.

Host-parasite interactions often have complex dynamics. At the level of individual allele frequencies, the dynamics are difficult to predict and difficult to measure. However, aggregate properties of polymorphism, such as allelic diversity or the frequency of resistance, may be relatively easy to work with. I study this problem with computer simulations of a host-parasite model. In one example, the simulations show that the allelic diversity at a locus is similar in a host-parasite model and a neutral model in which drift is the only evolutionary process. Allelic diversity is similar in the two models, even though the temporal dynamics of individual allele frequencies are very different. In a second example, the genetic system that would be inferred from analyzing samples of hosts and parasites is quite different from the actual specificity that determines the dynamics of the system. Thus, general conclusions about the specificity of host-parasite genetics must be analyzed in the context of the expected statistical distributions of polymorphism. The final example shows that the frequency of resistance provides an interesting aggregate measure of host-parasite polymorphism. If the ratio of parasite generation time to the time between the reproductive seasons of the hosts is small, then no regular periodicity in the frequency of resistance occurs. However, if parasites have many generations per reproductive season of the host, then resistance fluctuates with a period equal to the seasonality of the host. The important role of seasonality shown here differs from the emphasis in previous theories on the relative generation times of host and parasite.


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