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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Coevolving parasites and population size shape the evolution of mating behaviour

Niels AG Kerstes1*, Camillo Bérénos12 and Oliver Y Martin1

Author affiliations

1 ETH Zürich, Institute of Integrative Biology, Experimental Ecology, Universitätstrasse 16, CH-8092, Zürich, Switzerland

2 University of Edinburgh, Institute of Evolutionary Biology, Edinburgh, EH9 3JT, UK

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Citation and License

BMC Evolutionary Biology 2013, 13:29  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-13-29

Published: 4 February 2013



Coevolution with parasites and population size are both expected to influence the evolution of mating rates. To gain insights into the interaction between these dual selective factors, we used populations from a coevolution experiment with the red flour beetle, Tribolium castaneum, and its microsporidian parasite, Nosema whitei. We maintained each experimental population at two different population sizes. We assayed the mating behaviour of both males and females from coevolved and paired non-coevolved control populations after 24 generations of coevolution with parasites.


Males from large, coevolved populations (i.e. ancestors were exposed to parasites) showed a reduced eagerness to mate compared to males from large, non-coevolved populations. But in small populations, coevolution did not lead to decreased male mating rates. Coevolved females from both large and small populations appeared to be more willing to accept mating than non-coevolved females.


This study provides unique, experimental insights into the combined roles of coevolving parasites and population size on the evolution of mating rate. Furthermore, we find that males and females respond differently to the same environmental conditions. Our results show that parasites can be key determinants of the sexual behaviour of their hosts.

Host-parasite coevolution; Red queen hypothesis; Genetic variation; Multiple mating; Polyandry