Virulence and age at reproduction: new insights into host–parasite coevolution


Olivier Restif, Laboratoire d’Ecologie Evolutive Parasitaire, CNRS – FRE 2365, Université Pierre et Marie Curie, 7, Quai St Bernard, CC 237 75252 Paris Cedex 5, France. Tel.: +33 144 273294; fax: +33 144 273516; e-mail:


We consider an explicit mutation–selection process to investigate the dynamics underlying the coevolution of parasite’s virulence and host’s prereproductive life span in a system with discrete generations. Conforming with earlier models, our model predicts that virulence generally increases with natural mortality of the host, and that a moderate increase in virulence selects for lower ages at reproduction. However, the epidemiological feedback in our model also gives rise to unusual and unexpected patterns. In particular, if virulence is sufficiently high the model can lead to a bifurcation pattern, where two strategies coexist in the host population. The first is to develop rapidly to reproduce before being infected. Individuals following this strategy suffer, however, from reduced fecundity. The second strategy is to develop much more slowly. Because of the high virulence, the effective period of transmission is short, so that a few slowly developing individuals escape infection. These individuals, although choosing a risky strategy, benefit from high fecundity.