Seasonality selects for more acutely virulent parasites when virulence is density dependent

Ruairi Donnelly, Alex Best, Andrew White, Mike Boots

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20 Citations (Scopus)


Host condition is often likely to influence parasite virulence. Furthermore, condition may often be correlated with host density, and therefore, it is important to understand the role of density-dependent virulence (DDV). We examine the consequences of DDV to the evolution of parasites in both seasonal and non-seasonal environments. In particular, we consider seasonality in host birth rate that results in a fluctuating host density and therefore a variable virulence. We show that parasites are selected for lower exploitation, and therefore lower transmission and virulence as the strength of DDV increases without seasonality. This is an important insight from our models; DDV has the opposite effect on the evolution of parasites to that of higher baseline mortality. Our key result is that although seasonality does not affect the evolution of virulence in classical models, with DDV parasites in seasonal environments are predicted to evolve to be more acute. This suggests that in more seasonal environments wildlife disease is likely to be more rather than less virulent if DDV is widespread.
Original languageEnglish
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1751
Publication statusPublished - 22 Jan 2013


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