Buckingham LJ & Ashby B. Coevolution of age-structured tolerance and virulence. biorXiv 2023.12.18.572099
Hosts can evolve a variety of defences against parasitism, including resistance (which prevents or reduces the spread of infection) and tolerance (which protects against virulence). Some organisms have evolved different levels of tolerance at different life-stages, which is likely to be the result of coevolution with pathogens, and yet it is currently unclear how coevolution drives patterns of age-specific tolerance. Here, we use a model of tolerance-virulence coevolution to investigate how age structure influences coevolutionary dynamics. Specifically, we explore how coevolution unfolds when tolerance and virulence (disease-induced mortality) are age-specific compared to when these traits are uniform across the host lifespan. We find that coevolutionary cycling is relatively common when host tolerance is age-specific, but cycling does not occur when tolerance is the same across all ages. We also find that age-structured tolerance can lead to selection for higher virulence in shorter-lived than in longer-lived hosts, whereas non-age-structured tolerance always leads virulence to increase with host lifespan. Our findings therefore suggest that age structure can have substantial qualitative impacts on host-pathogen coevolution.