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Am Nat. 2002 Sep;160(3):374-88. doi: 10.1086/341525.

Coevolution between parasite virulence and host life-history traits.

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Centre d'Etudes sur le Polymorphisme des Microorganismes, Unité Mixte de Recherche, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique-IRD 9926, IRD, 911, avenue Agropolis, BP 5045, 34032 Montpellier Cedex 1, France.


Epidemiological models generally explore the evolution of parasite life-history traits, namely, virulence and transmission, against a background of constant host life-history traits. However, life-history models have predicted the evolution of host traits in response to parasitism. The coevolution of host and parasite life-history traits remains largely unexplored. We present an epidemiological model, based on resource allocation theory, that provides an analysis of the coevolution between host reproductive effort and parasite virulence. This model allows for hosts with either a fixed (i.e., genetic) or conditional (i.e., a phenotypically plastic) response to parasitism. It also considers superinfections. We show that parasitism always favors increased allocation to host reproduction, but because of epidemiological feedbacks, the evolutionarily stable host reproductive effort does not always increase with parasite virulence. Superinfection drives the evolution of parasite virulence and acts on the evolution of the host through parasite evolution, generally leading to higher host reproductive effort. Coevolution, as opposed to cases where only one of the antagonists evolves, may generate correlations between host and parasite life-history traits across environmental gradients affecting the fecundity or the survival of the host. Our results provide a theoretical framework against which experimental coevolution outcomes or field observations can be contrasted.

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