The coevolutionary implications of host tolerance

Alex Best, Andrew White, Mike Boots

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

63 Citations (Scopus)


Host tolerance to infectious disease, whereby hosts do not directly “fight” parasites but instead ameliorate the damage caused, is an important defense mechanism in both plants and animals. Because tolerance to parasite virulence may lead to higher prevalence of disease in a population, evolutionary theory tells us that while the spread of resistance genes will result in negative frequency dependence and the potential for diversification, the evolution of tolerance is instead likely to result in fixation. However, our understanding of the broader implications of tolerance is limited by a lack of fully coevolutionary theory. Here we examine the coevolution of tolerance across a comprehensive range of classic coevolutionary host–parasite frameworks, including equivalents of gene-for-gene and matching allele and evolutionary invasion models. Our models show that the coevolution of host tolerance and parasite virulence does not lead to the generation and maintenance of diversity through either static polymorphisms or through “Red-queen” cycles. Coevolution of tolerance may however lead to multiple stable states leading to sudden shifts in parasite impacts on host health. More broadly, we emphasize that tolerance may change host–parasite interactions from antagonistic to a form of “apparent commensalism,” but may also lead to the evolution of parasites that are highly virulent in nontolerant hosts.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1426-1435
Issue number5
Early online date29 Jan 2014
Publication statusPublished - May 2014


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