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Evolution. 2001 May;55(5):1056-62.

Host life history and the evolution of parasite virulence.

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  • 1Centre d'Etudes sur le Polymorphisme des Microorganismes UMR CNRS-IRD 9926, Evolution des Systèmes Symbiotiques, Montpellier, France.


We present a general epidemiological model of host-parasite interactions that includes various forms of superinfection. We use this model to study the effects of different host life-history traits on the evolution of parasite virulence. In particular, we analyze the effects of natural host death rate on the evolutionarily stable parasite virulence. We show that, contrary to classical predictions, an increase in the natural host death rate may select for lower parasite virulence if some form of superinfection occurs. This result is in agreement with the experimental results and the verbal argument presented by Ebert and Mangin (1997). This experiment is discussed in the light of the present model. We also point out the importance of superinfections for the effect of nonspecific immunity on the evolution of virulence. In a broader perspective, this model demonstrates that the occurrence of multiple infections may qualitatively alter classical predictions concerning the effects of various host life-history traits on the evolution of parasite virulence.

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