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Proc Biol Sci. 1992 Dec 22;250(1329):195-7.

A kin selection model for the evolution of virulence.

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Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of California, Irvine 92717.


The costs and benefits of parasite virulence are analysed in an evolutionarily stable strategy (ESS) model. Increased host mortality caused by disease (virulence) reduces a parasite's fitness by damaging its food supply. The fitness costs of high virulence may be offset by the benefits of increased transmission or ability to withstand the host's defences. It has been suggested that multiple infections lead to higher virulence because of competition among parasite strains within a host. A quantitative prediction is given for the ESS virulence rate as a function of the coefficient of relatedness among co-infecting strains. The prediction depends on the quantitative relation between the costs of virulence and the benefits of transmission or avoidance of host defences. The particular mechanisms by which parasites can increase their transmission or avoid host defences also have a key role in the evolution of virulence when there are multiple infections.

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