Sex allocation and population structure in apicomplexan (protozoa) parasites
West, Stuart A
Smith, Todd G
Read, Andrew F
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Establishing the selfing rate of parasites is important for studies in clinical and epidemiological medicine as well as evolutionary biology. Sex allocation theory offers a relatively cheap and easy way to estimate selfing rates in natural parasite populations. Local mate competition (LMC) theory predicts that the optimal sex ratio (r*; defined as proportion males) is related to the selfing rate (s) by the equation r*=(1-s)/2. In this paper, we generalize the application of sex allocation theory across parasitic protozoa in the phylum Apicomplexa. This cosmopolitan phylum consists entirely of parasites, and includes a number of species of medical and veterinary importance. We suggest that LMC theory should apply to eimeriorin intestinal parasites. As predicted, data from 13 eimeriorin species showed a female-biased sex ratio, with the sex ratios suggesting high levels of selfing (0.8-1.0). Importantly our estimate of the selfing rate in one of these species, Toxoplasma gondii, is in agreement with previous genetic analyses. In contrast, we predict that LMC theory will not apply to the groups in which syzygy occurs (adeleorins, gregarines and piroplasms). Syzygy occurs when a single male gametocyte and a single female gametocyte pair together physically or in close proximity, just prior to fertilization. As predicted, data from four adeleorin species showed sex ratios not significantly different from 0.5.