Pathogens have the potential to maintain genetic polymorphisms by creating frequency-dependent selection on their host. This can occur when a rare host genotype is less likely to be attacked by a pathogen (frequency-dependent disease attack) and has higher fitness at low frequency (negative frequency-dependent selection). In this study, we used wheat genotypes that were susceptible to different races of the pathogen Puccinia striiformis to test whether disease created frequency-selection on its host and whether such selection could maintain polymorphisms for resistance genes in the wheat populations. Four different two-way mixtures of wheat genotypes were planted at different frequencies in both the presence and absence of disease. Disease created frequency-dependent selection on its host in some populations. Unknown factors other than disease also created frequency-dependent selection in this system because, in some instances, rare genotype advantage was observed in the absence of disease. Although the pathogen created frequency-dependent selection on its host, this selection was not sufficient to maintain genetic polymorphism in the host populations. In all cases where frequency-dependent selection occurred only in the diseased plots, one of the two genotypes was predicted to dominate in the population and the same genotype was predicted to dominate in both the presence and absence of disease. Only in cases where frequency-dependent selection was not caused by disease was there evidence that genetic polymorphisms would be maintained in the population. The frequency-dependent selection described in this study is a consequence of epidemiological effects of disease and differs from the time-lagged frequency-dependent selection resulting from coevolution between hosts and parasites. The impact of this direct frequency-dependent selection on the maintenance of genetic polymorphisms in the host population is discussed.
Corresponding Editor: C. Lively