The implications of coevolutionary dynamics to host-parasite interactions

Alex Best, Andy White, Mike Boots

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

82 Citations (Scopus)


Due to the importance of infectious disease, there is a large body of theory on the evolution of either hosts or, more commonly, parasites. Here we present a fully coevolutionary model of a host-parasite system that includes ecological dynamics that feed back into the coevolutionary outcome, and we show that highly virulent parasites may evolve due to the coevolutionary process. Parasite evolution is very sensitive to evolution in the host, and virulence fluctuates substantially when mutation rates vary between host and parasite. Evolutionary branching in the host leads to parasites increasing their virulence, and small changes in host resistance drive large changes in parasite virulence. Evolutionary branching in one species does not cause branching in the other. Our work emphasizes the importance of considering coevolutionary dynamics and shows that certain highly virulent parasites may result from responses to host evolution. © 2009 by The University of Chicago.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)779-791
Number of pages13
JournalAmerican Naturalist
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2009


  • Adaptive dynamics
  • Coevolution
  • Host-parasite
  • Resistance
  • Virulence


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