Coevolution may lead to local adaptation of parasites to their sympatric hosts. Locally adapted parasites are, on average, more infectious to sympatric hosts than to allopatric hosts of the same species or their fitness on the sympatric hosts is superior to that on allopatric hosts. We tested local adaptation of a hemiparasitic plant, Rhinanthus serotinus (Scrophulariaceae), to its host plant, the grass Agrostis capillaris. Using a reciprocal cross-infection experiment, we exposed host plants from four sites to hemiparasites originating from the same four sites in a common environment. The parasites were equally able to establish haustorial connections to sympatric and allopatric hosts, and their performance was similar on both host types. Therefore, these results do not indicate local adaptation of the parasites to their sympatric hosts. However, the parasite populations differed in average biomass and number of flowers per plant and in their effect on host biomass. These results indicate that the virulence of the parasite varied among populations, suggesting genetic variation. Theoretical models suggest that local adaptation is likely to be detected if the host and the parasite have different evolutionary potentials, different migration rates, and the parasite is highly virulent. In the interaction between R. serotinus and A. capillaris all the theoretical prerequisites for local adaptation may not be fulfilled.
Corresponding Editor: M. Dudash