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Host resistance and coevolution in spatially structured populations

Best, A. and Webb, Steven and White, A. and Boots, M. (2011) Host resistance and coevolution in spatially structured populations. Proceedings B: Biological Sciences, 278 (1715). pp. 2216-2222.

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Abstract

Natural, agricultural and human populations are structured, with a proportion of interactions occurring locally or within social groups rather than at random. This within-population spatial and social structure is important to the evolution of parasites but little attention has been paid to how spatial structure affects the evolution of host resistance, and as a consequence the coevolutionary outcome. We examine the evolution of resistance across a range of mixing patterns using an approximate mathematical model and stochastic simulations. As reproduction becomes increasingly local, hosts are always selected to increase resistance. More localized transmission also selects for higher resistance, but only if reproduction is also predominantly local. If the hosts disperse, lower resistance evolves as transmission becomes more local. These effects can be understood as a combination of genetic (kin) and ecological structuring on individual fitness. When hosts and parasites coevolve, local interactions select for hosts with high defence and parasites with low transmissibility and virulence. Crucially, this means that more population mixing may lead to the evolution of both fast-transmitting highly virulent parasites and reduced resistance in the host.