Coevolution Between Hosts & Parasites

Why do most organisms undergo sexual reproduction? What factors maintain sexual reproduction when strains within a species that reproduce asexually could invade and displace sexuals? More than 20 genetic, evolutionary, and ecological hypotheses have been proposed to answer this basic question, often considered the queen of evolutionary problems.

Much of our work has focused on host-parasite coevolution or the Red Queen hypothesis as a major driver of selection that favors sexual over asexual reproduction.  The idea is that species are in never-ending coevolving interactions with their enemies, which favors the never-ending benefit of creating genetically diverse offspring.  Sexual reproduction, specifically genetic segregation and recombination, is the mechanism that produces the needed variation among offspring.

Demonstrating the operation of the Red Queen has involved empirical field studies, lab infection experiments, and theoretical models of the detailed process of coevolution.


Nuismer, S. L., *Jenkins, C. E., & Dybdahl, M. F. 2017. Identifying coevolving loci using interspecific genetic correlations. Ecology and Evolution7(17), 6894-6903.

Nuismer S.N. and M.F.  Dybdahl. 2016.  Quantifying the coevolutionary potential of multi-step immune defenses. Evolution 70(2), 282-295

Dybdahl, M.F., *C. E. Jenkins, and S. Nuismer.  2014.  Identifying the molecular basis of coevolution: merging models and mechanisms. American Naturalist 184(1):1-13. doi: 10.1086/676591

*Drown DM, Dybdahl M.F.,and Gomulkiewicz R. 2013. Consumer-resource interactions and the evolution of migration. Evolution: Early View online.

Jokela, J., M.F. Dybdahl, and C.M. Lively. 2009.  Rapid clonal dynamics and parasite coevolution in a population of sexual and asexual snails.  American Naturalist 174:S43-53

Dybdahl, M.F., J. Jokela, L. Delph, B. Koskella, and C.M. Lively.  2008.  Hybrid fitness in a locally adapted parasite.  American Naturalist172:772-772

Gomulkiewicz, R.,  D. Drown*, M.F. Dybdahl, W. Godsoe, S.L. Nuismer, K.M. Pepin, B. Ridenhour, C.I Smith, and J.B. Yoder.  2007.  The do’s and don’ts of testing the Geographic Mosaic Theory of coevolution.  Heredity  98:249-258

Dybdahl, M.F. and A.C. Krist. 2004. Genotypic vs. condition effects on parasite-driven rare advantage. Journal of Evolutionary Biology 17:967-973

Dybdahl, M.F. and A. Storfer. 2003 Parasite Local Adaptation: Red Queen versus Suicide King. Trends in Ecology and Evolution. 18:523-530

Lively, C.M.and M.F. Dybdahl. 2000. Parasite adaptation to locally common host genotypes. Nature 405:679-681.

Dybdahl, M.F. and C.M. Lively. 1998. Host-parasite interactions: evidence for a rare advantage and time-lagged selection in a natural population. Evolution 52:1057-1066.

Dybdahl, M.F. and C.M. Lively. 1996. The geography of coevolution: comparative population structures for a snail and its trematode parasite. Evolution 50:2264-2275.

Dybdahl, M.F. and C.M. Lively. 1995. Diverse, endemic, and polyphyletic clones in mixed populations of a freshwater snail Potamopyrgus antipodarum. J. Evol. Biol. 8:385-398

Dybdahl, M.F. and C.M. Lively. 1995, Host-parasite interactions: infection of common clones in natural populations of a freshwater snail (Potamopyrgus antipodarum). Proceedings of the Royal Society, London, B. 260:99-103


*WSU graduate student author