The virulence–transmission relationship in an obligate killer holds under diverse epidemiological and ecological conditions, but where is the tradeoff?

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Parasite virulence is a leading theme in evolutionary biology. Modeling the course of virulence evolution holds the promise of providing practical insights into the management of infectious diseases and the implementation of vaccination strategies. A key element of virulence modeling is a tradeoff between parasite transmission rate and host lifespan. This assumption is crucial for predicting the level of optimal virulence. Here, I test this assumption using the water flea Daphnia magna and its castrating and obligate-killing bacterium Pasteuria ramosa. I found that the virulence–transmission relationship holds under diverse epidemiological and ecological conditions. In particular, parasite genotype, absolute and relative parasite dose, and within-host competition in multiple infections did not significantly affect the observed trend. Interestingly, the relationship between virulence and parasite transmission in this system is best explained by a model that includes a cubic term. Under this relationship, parasite transmission initially peaks and saturates at an intermediate level of virulence, but then it further increases as virulence decreases, surpassing the previous peak. My findings also highlight the problem of using parasite-induced host mortality as a “one-size-fits-all” measure of virulence for horizontally transmitted parasites, without considering the onset and duration of parasite transmission as well as other equally virulent effects of parasites (e.g., host castration). Therefore, mathematical models may be required to predict whether these particular characteristics of horizontally transmitted parasites can direct virulence evolution into directions not envisaged by existing models.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)11157-11166
Number of pages10
JournalEcology and Evolution
Volume7
Issue number24
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 2017

Keywords

  • Daphnia magna
  • Pasteuria ramosa
  • epidemiology
  • evolution of virulence
  • multiple infections
  • semelparous parasite
  • tradeoff hypothesis
  • within-host competition

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