The King Laboratory
of Theoretical Ecology & Evolution
at the University of Michigan

Resource-driven changes to host population stability alter the evolution of virulence and transmission

J. L. Hite and C. E. Cressler
Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, Series B 373(1745): 20170087, 2018.

What drives the evolution of parasite life-history traits? Recent studies suggest that linking within- and between-host processes can provide key insight into both disease dynamics and parasite evolution. Still, it remains difficult to understand how to pinpoint the critical factors connecting these cross-scale feedbacks, particularly under non-equilibrium conditions; many natural host populations inherently fluctuate and parasites themselves can strongly alter the stability of host populations. Here, we develop a general model framework that mechanistically links resources to parasite evolution across a gradient of stable and unstable conditions. First, we dynamically link resources and between-host processes (host density, stability, transmission) to virulence evolution, using a ‘non-nested’ model. Then, we consider a ‘nested’ model where population-level processes (transmission and virulence) depend on resource-driven changes to individual-level (within-host) processes (energetics, immune function, parasite production). Contrary to ‘non-nested’ model predictions, the ‘nested’ model reveals complex effects of host population dynamics on parasite evolution, including regions of evolutionary bistability; evolution can push parasites towards strongly or weakly stabilizing strategies. This bistability results from dynamic feedbacks between resource-driven changes to host density, host immune function and parasite production. Together, these results highlight how cross-scale feedbacks can provide key insights into the structuring role of parasites and parasite evolution.

The official version of the paper is here.  

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