Maintenance of host variation in tolerance to pathogens and parasites

A. Best, A. White, M. Boots

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

132 Citations (Scopus)


Tolerance and resistance provide hosts with two distinct defense strategies against parasitism. In resistance the hosts "fight" the parasite directly, whereas in tolerance the hosts fight the disease by ameliorating the damage that infection causes. There is increasing recognition that the two mechanisms may exhibit very different evolutionary behaviors. Although empirical work has often noted considerable variance in tolerance within hosts, theory has predicted the fixation of tolerance due to positive frequency dependence through a feedback with disease prevalence. Here we reconcile these findings through a series of dynamic game theoretical models. We emphasize that there is a crucial distinction between tolerance to the effects of disease-induced mortality and tolerance to the effect of the disease-induced reductions in fecundity. Only mortality tolerance has a positive effect on parasite fitness, whereas sterility tolerance is neutral and may therefore result in polymorphisms. The nature of the costs to defense and their relationship to trade-offs between resistance and tolerance are crucial in determining the likelihood of variation, whereas the co-evolution of the parasite will not affect diversity. Our findings stress that it is important to measure the effects of different mechanisms on characteristics that affect the epidemiology of the parasite to completely understand the evolutionary dynamics of defense. © 2008 by The National Academy of Sciences of the USA.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)20786-20791
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Issue number52
Publication statusPublished - 30 Dec 2008


  • Evolutionary branching
  • Genetic variation
  • Resistance
  • Tolerance


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