The evolution of parasites in response to tolerance in their hosts: The good, the bad, and apparent commensalism

Martin R. Miller, Andrew White, Michael Boots

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

159 Citations (Scopus)


Tolerance to parasites reduces the harm that infection causes the host (virulence). Here we investigate the evolution of parasites in response to host tolerance. We show that parasites may evolve either higher or lower within-host growth rates depending on the nature of the tolerance mechanism. If tolerance reduces virulence by a constant factor, the parasite is always selected to increase its growth rate. Alternatively, if tolerance reduces virulence in a nonlinear manner such that it is less effective at reducing the damage caused by higher growth rates, this may select for faster or slower replicating parasites. If the host is able to completely tolerate pathogen damage up to a certain replication rate, this may result in apparent commensalism, whereby infection causes no apparent virulence but the original evolution of tolerance has been costly. Tolerance tends to increase disease prevalence and may therefore lead to more, rather than less, disease-induced mortality. If the parasite is selected, even a highly efficient tolerance mechanism may result in more individuals in total dying from disease. However, the evolution of tolerance often, although not always, reduces the individual risk of dying from infection. © 2006 The Society for the Study of Evolution. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)945-956
Number of pages12
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - May 2006


  • Adaptive dynamics
  • Apparent commensalism
  • Evolution
  • Evolutionarily stable strategies
  • Parasites
  • Theory
  • Tolerance


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