Evolution of pathogen virulence: the role of variation in host phenotype

Proceedings. Biological Sciences
K S Pfennig


Selection on pathogens tends to favour the evolution of growth and reproductive rates and a concomitant level of virulence (damage done to the host) that maximizes pathogen fitness. Yet, because hosts often pose varying selective environments to pathogens, one level of virulence may not be appropriate for all host types. Indeed, if a level of virulence confers high fitness to the pathogen in one host phenotype but low fitness in another host phenotype, alternative virulence strategies may be maintained in the pathogen population. Such strategies can occur either as polymorphism, where different strains of pathogen evolve specialized virulence strategies in different host phenotypes or as polyphenism, where pathogens facultatively express alternative virulence strategies depending on host phenotype. Polymorphism potentially leads to specialist pathogens capable of infecting a limited range of host phenotypes, whereas polyphenism potentially leads to generalist pathogens capable of infecting a wider range of hosts. Evaluating how variation among hosts affects virulence evolution can provide insight into pathogen diversity and is critical in determining how host pathogen interactions affect the phenotypic evolution of both hosts a...Continue Reading


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Related Concepts

Host-Parasite Interactions
Pathogenic Organism
Host-Pathogen Interactions
Genetic Polymorphism
Phenotype Determination
Biological Evolution
Selection, Genetic
Variation (Genetics)

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