Superinfection and the coevolution of parasite virulence and host recovery

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Parasite strategies of host exploitation may be affected by host defence strategies and multiple infections. In particular, within-host competition between multiple parasite strains has been shown to select for higher virulence. However, little is known on how multiple infections could affect the coevolution between host recovery and parasite virulence. Here, we extend a coevolutionary model introduced by van Baalen (Proc. R. Soc. B, 265, 1998, 317) to account for superinfection. When the susceptibility to superinfection is low, we recover van Baalen's results and show that there are two potential evolutionary endpoints: one with avirulent parasites and poorly defended hosts, and another one with high virulence and high recovery. However, when the susceptibility to superinfection is above a threshold, the only possible evolutionary outcome is one with high virulence and high investment into defence. We also show that within-host competition may select for lower host recovery, as a consequence of selection for more virulent strains. We discuss how different parasite and host strategies (superinfection facilitation, competitive exclusion) as well as demographic and environmental parameters, such as host fecundity or various costs of defence, may affect the interplay between multiple infections and host–parasite coevolution. Our model shows the interplay between coevolutionary dynamics and multiple infections may be affected by crucial mechanistic or ecological details.

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