The persistence of high genetic variability in natural populations garners considerable interest among ecologists and evolutionary biologists. One proposed hypothesis for the maintenance of high levels of genetic diversity relies on frequency-dependent selection imposed by parasites on host populations (Red Queen hypothesis). A complementary hypothesis suggests that a trade-off between fitness costs associated with tolerance to stress factors and fitness costs associated with resistance to parasites is responsible for the maintenance of host genetic diversity.
The present study investigated whether host resistance to parasites is traded off with tolerance to environmental stress factors (high/low temperatures, high salinity), by comparing populations of the freshwater snail Melanoides tuberculata with low vs. high clonal diversity. Since polyclonal populations were found to be more parasitized than populations with low clonal diversity, we expected them to be tolerant to environmental stress factors. We found that clonal diversity explained most of the variation in snail survival under high temperature, thereby suggesting that tolerance to high temperatures of clonally diverse populations is higher than that of populations with low clonal diversity.