• Parasites;
  • life history;
  • resistance;
  • evolutionary models


There are a number of ways in which a host can respond in evolutionary time to reductions in survival and reproduction due to a virulent parasite. These include evolving physiological morphological, or behavioural mechanisms of resistance to infection (or to proliferation, once infection has occurred). But a more unexpected tactic is also possible. This is for hosts to reproduce (slightly) sooner when in the presence of a virulent parasite as compared to when the parasite is less virulent or absent. As such, hosts which reproduce younger may be at a selective advantage, since they can both evade parasitism in time and, even when parasitised, can reduce the likely impact of the parasite on survival and reproductive success. We employ a simple mathematical model to propose that parasites and pathogens can act as important agents in the evolution of the timing of reproduction and associated life-history characters (e.g. body size). Once established in a semelparous host population, evolutionary increases in parasite virulence should result in the evolution of shorter lived hosts; whereas the evolution of less virulent forms of the parasite should be accompanied by the evolution of longer lived hosts. We argue that in the presence of a sufficiently virulent parasite the evolution of longer pre-reproductive life-spans should require the previous or concomitant evolution of morphological, behavioural or physiological resistance to parasitic infection and proliferation.