Coinfection and the Evolution of Parasite Virulence

Robert M. May, Martin A. Nowak

Abstract

Analyses of the selection pressures acting on parasite virulence are made more complicated when individual hosts can simultaneously harbour many different strains or genotypes of a parasite. Here we explore the evolutionary dynamics of host-parasite associations in which individual hosts can be coinfected with many different parasite strains. (We take coinfection to mean that each strain transmits at a rate unaffected by the presence of others in the same host.) This study thus represents the opposite extreme to our earlier work on superinfection in which there is a dominance hierarchy such that only the most virulent strain present in a host is transmitted. For highly diverse populations of parasite strains, we find that such coinfection leads to selection for strains whose virulence-levels lie in a relatively narrow band close to the maximum consistent with the parasite's basic preproductive ratio, R$_{0}$, exceeding unity.