Why Have Parasites Promoting Mating Success Been Observed so Rarely?

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Host manipulation by sexually transmitted parasites which increases host mating rate and thus parasite transmission rate has long been viewed as a plausible parasite adaptation. However, empirical evidence for it is rare. Here, using an adaptive dynamics approach to evolution, we explore conditions under which such disease-induced mating enhancement is (or is not) likely to occur. We find that increased mating success is less likely to evolve if the host reproduction rate, or the baseline disease transmission rate, is reduced, and the parasite affects just one sex, compared to when it affects both. We also find that it is less likely to evolve if the virulence-transmission trade-off curve is stronger, since we assume that enhanced disease transmission can only be achieved at the cost of increased virulence and as this trade-off is concave. In addition, we demonstrate that if disease-induced mating enhancement is equally acting in both sexes the mating system has no effect on evolutionary outcomes. On the contrary, if disease-induced mating enhancement is acting in just one sex, the potential for its evolution increases with the degree of polygyny in the host population. To study the examined phenomenon in greater detail we encourage further empirical research on this apparently less explored impact of sexually transmitted parasites on host fitness.