Characterization of host and parasite population genetic structure and estimation of gene flow among populations are essential for the understanding of parasite local adaptation and coevolutionary interactions between hosts and parasites. We examined two aspects of population structure in a parasitic plant, the greater dodder (Cuscuta europaea) and its host plant, the stinging nettle (Urtica dioica), using allozyme data from 12 host and eight parasite populations. First, we examined whether hosts exposed to parasitism in the past contain higher levels of genetic variation. Second, we examined whether host and parasite populations differ in terms of population structure and if their population structures are correlated. There was no evidence that host populations differed in terms of gene diversity or heterozygosity according to their history of parasitism. Host populations were genetically more differentiated (F(ST) = 0.032) than parasite populations (F(ST) = 0.009). Based on these F(ST) values, gene flow was high for both host and parasite. Such high levels of gene flow could counteract selection for local adaptation of the parasite. We found no significant correlation between geographic and genetic distance (estimated as pairwise F(ST)), either for the host or for the parasite. Furthermore, host and parasite genetic distance matrices were uncorrelated, suggesting that sites with genetically similar host populations are unlikely to have genetically similar parasite populations.
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