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.