Resource-driven changes to host population stability alter the evolution of virulence and transmission

Jessica L. Hite, Clayton E. Cressler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


What drives the evolution of parasite life-history traits? Recent studies suggest that linking within- and between-host processes can provide key insight into both disease dynamics and parasite evolution. Still, it remains difficult to understand how to pinpoint the critical factors connecting these cross-scale feedbacks, particularly under non-equilibrium conditions; many natural host populations inherently fluctuate and parasites themselves can strongly alter the stability of host populations. Here, we develop a general model framework that mechanistically links resources to parasite evolution across a gradient of stable and unstable conditions. First, we dynamically link resources and between-host processes (host density, stability, transmission) to virulence evolution, using a ‘non-nested’ model. Then, we consider a ‘nested’ model where population-level processes (trans-mission and virulence) depend on resource-driven changes to individual-level (within-host) processes (energetics, immune function, parasite pro-duction). Contrary to ‘non-nested’ model predictions, the ‘nested’ model reveals complex effects of host population dynamics on parasite evolution, including regions of evolutionary bistability; evolution can push parasites towards strongly or weakly stabilizing strategies. This bistability results from dynamic feedbacks between resource-driven changes to host density, host immune function and parasite production. Together, these results highlight how cross-scale feedbacks can provide key insights into the structuring role of parasites and parasite evolution. This article is part of the theme issue ‘Anthropogenic resource subsidies and host–parasite dynamics in wildlife’.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1745
StatePublished - May 5 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Adaptive dynamics
  • Consumer-resource
  • Nested models
  • Parasite evolution
  • Transmission
  • Virulence

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


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