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The importance of who infects whom: the evolution of diversity in host resistance to infectious disease


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Variation for resistance to infectious disease is ubiquitous and critical to host and parasite evolution and to disease impact, spread and control. However, the processes that generate and maintain this diversity are not understood. We examine how ecological feedbacks generate diversity in host defence focussing on when polymorphism can evolve without co-evolution of the parasite. Our key result is that when there is heritable variation in hosts in both their transmissibility and susceptibility along with costs to resistance, there is the possibility of the evolution of polymorphism. We argue that a wide range of behavioural or physiological mechanisms may lead to relationships between transmissibility and susceptibility that generate diversity. We illustrate this by showing that a tendency for higher contacts between related individuals leads to polymorphism. Only dimorphisms can evolve when infection is determined only by an individuals' susceptibility or when transmissibility and susceptibility are simply positively or negatively correlated.