Within genetically diverse infections of malaria parasites (Plasmodium spp.), the relative proportions of genetic clones in the vertebrate host's blood can influence clonal competition, transmission success, gametocyte sex ratio, and virulence. Clonal proportions depend on establishment success of each clone when they enter a new host and on subsequent differences in rates of asexual replication and clearance. Both of these life history traits could be influenced by clone genotype. To assess genetic (clonal) influences on both establishment success and later changes in relative proportion for the lizard malaria parasite Plasmodium mexicanum, 7 naturally infected fence lizards harboring a single clone of P. mexicanum served as donors to initiate replicate experimental infections containing each of the clones and combinations of 2 clones. Measured were relative establishment success of each clone, change in relative proportions over time, and rate of increase of parasite density and total parasitemia. Relative clonal proportions were determined using microsatellite markers. Rates of increase in the parasitemia and degree of change in relative proportions were not correlated, so both rapidly and slowly growing infections could show either little or substantial change in clonal proportions over time. There was a significant clone effect on establishment efficiency but not on later changes in relative proportions. These results argue for a combination of genetic and environmental (host) effects on the success of P. mexicanum clones in genetically complex infections. The maintenance of genetic variation for establishment success, but not subsequent replication rate or shifts in relative proportion, suggests trade-offs between these traits during life history evolution of malaria parasites.

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