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J Theor Biol. 2009 Apr 7;257(3):408-18. doi: 10.1016/j.jtbi.2008.11.014. Epub 2008 Nov 27.

Evolutionary branching of virulence in a single-infection model.

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  • 1Department of Biology, Centre for Ecological and Evolutionary Synthesis, University of Oslo, PO Box 1066 Blindern, N-0316 Oslo, Norway. t.o.svennungsen@bio.uio.no


This study explores the evolutionary dynamics of pathogen virulence in a single-infection model with density-dependent mortality. Although virulence is not an adaptation of the pathogen per se, it is generally believed to be an inevitable by-product of a pathogen's need to propagate and transmit to new hosts: an increase in virulence will parallel an increase in transmission efficacy. The exact characteristics of the trade-off curve defined by this relationship are important with respect to possible evolutionary scenarios. We conduct a critical function analysis, a method that exposes the evolutionary outcome resulting from trade-offs of arbitrary shape, and find that this simple model can display a wide variety of evolutionary dynamics; comprising multiple stable attractors, evolutionary repellors, and most notably, evolutionary branching points. We identify the conditions under which the different evolutionary outcomes are realised. Our analysis furthermore considers the evolution of coexisting strains, and identifies the trade-off characteristics that will support an evolutionarily stable dimorphic state. We find that an evolutionarily stable dimorphism may exist also in the absence of a branching point in the monomorphic state. The analysis reveals that an evolutionarily stable dimorphism will always be attracting and that no further branching is possible under this model. We discuss our results in relation to the dimension of the environmental feedback inherent in the model, and to results from previous studies and models of evolution of virulence.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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