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Evolution. 2001 Dec;55(12):2389-400.

Parasite transmission modes and the evolution of virulence.

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  • 1Department of Zoology, University of Toronto, ON, Canada.


A mathematical model is presented that explores the relationship between transmission patterns and the evolution of virulence for horizontally transmitted parasites when only a single parasite strain can infect each host. The model is constructed by decomposing parasite transmission into two processes, the rate of contact between hosts and the probability of transmission per contact. These transmission rate components, as well as the total parasite mortality rate, are allowed to vary over the course of an infection. A general evolutionarily stable condition is presented that partitions the effects of virulence on parasite fitness into three components: fecundity benefits, mortality costs, and morbidity costs. This extension of previous theory allows us to explore the evolutionary consequences of a variety of transmission patterns. I then focus attention on a special case in which the parasite density remains approximately constant during an infection, and I demonstrate two important ways in which transmission modes can affect virulence evolution: by imposing different morbidity costs on the parasite and by altering the scheduling of parasite reproduction during an infection. Both are illustrated with examples, including one that examines the hypothesis that vector-borne parasites should be more virulent than non-vector-borne parasites (Ewald 1994). The validity of this hypothesis depends upon the way in which these two effects interact, and it need not hold in general.

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