• Open Access

Evolution of virulence: triggering host inflammation allows invading pathogens to exclude competitors


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*Correspondence: E-mail: sam.brown@cantab.net


Virulence is generally considered to benefit parasites by enhancing resource-transfer from host to pathogen. Here, we offer an alternative framework where virulent immune-provoking behaviours and enhanced immune resistance are joint tactics of invading pathogens to eliminate resident competitors (transferring resources from resident to invading pathogen). The pathogen wins by creating a novel immunological challenge to which it is already adapted. We analyse a general ecological model of ‘proactive invasion’ where invaders not adapted to a local environment can succeed by changing it to one where they are better adapted than residents. However, the two-trait nature of the ‘proactive’ strategy (provocation of, and adaptation to environmental change) presents an evolutionary conundrum, as neither trait alone is favoured in a homogenous host population. We show that this conundrum can be resolved by allowing for host heterogeneity. We relate our model to emerging empirical findings on immunological mediation of parasite competition.