skip to main content

Title: Modeling the Effects of Resource-Driven Immune Defense on Parasite Transmission in Heterogeneous Host Populations

Individuals experience heterogeneous environmental conditions that can affect within-host processes such as immune defense against parasite infection. Variation among individuals in parasite shedding can cause some hosts to contribute disproportionately to population-level transmission, but we currently lack mechanistic theory that predicts when environmental conditions can result in large disease outbreaks through the formation of immunocompromised superspreading individuals. Here, I present a within-host model of a microparasite’s interaction with the immune system that links an individual host’s resource intake to its infectious period. For environmental scenarios driving population-level heterogeneity in resource intake (resource scarcity and resource subsidy relative to baseline availability), I generate a distribution of infectious periods and simulate epidemics on these heterogeneous populations. I find that resource scarcity can result in large epidemics through creation of superspreading individuals, while resource subsidies can reduce or prevent transmission of parasites close to their invasion threshold by homogenizing resource allocation to immune defense. Importantly, failure to account for heterogeneity in competence can result in under-prediction of outbreak size, especially when parasites are close to their invasion threshold. More generally, this framework suggests that differences in conditions experienced by individual hosts can lead to superspreading via differences in resource allocation to immune defense alone, even in the absence of other heterogeneites such as host contacts.

more » « less
Author(s) / Creator(s):
Publisher / Repository:
Oxford University Press
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Integrative and Comparative Biology
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Abstract

    The consequences of parasite infection for individual hosts depend on key features of host–parasite ecology underpinning parasite growth and immune defense, such as age, sex, resource supply, and environmental stressors. Scaling these features and their underlying mechanisms from the individual host is challenging but necessary, as they shape parasite transmission at the population level. Translating individual-level mechanisms across scales could inherently improve the way we think about feedbacks among parasitism, the mechanisms driving transmission, and the consequences of human impact and disease control efforts. Here, we use individual-based models (IBMs) based on general metabolic theory, Dynamic Energy Budget (DEB) theory, to scale explicit life-history features of individual hosts, such as growth, reproduction, parasite production, and death, to parasite transmission at the population level over a range of resource supplies focusing on the major human parasite, Schistosoma mansoni, and its intermediate host snail, Biomphalaria glabrata. At the individual level, infected hosts produce fewer parasites at lower resources as competition increases. At the population level, our DEB–IBM predicts brief, but intense parasite peaks early during the host growth season when resources are abundant and infected hosts are few. The timing of these peaks challenges the status quo that high densities of infected hosts produce the highest parasite densities. As expected, high resource supply boosts parasite output, but parasite output also peaks at modest to high host background mortality rates, which parallels overcompensation in stage-structured models. Our combined results reveal the crucial role of individual-level physiology in identifying how environmental conditions, time of the year, and key feedbacks within host–parasite ecology interact to define periods of elevated risk. The testable forecasts from this physiologically-explicit epidemiological model can inform disease management to reduce human risk of schistosome infection.

    more » « less
  2. Theory often predicts that host populations should evolve greater resistance when parasites become abundant. Furthermore, that evolutionary response could ameliorate declines in host populations during epidemics. Here, we argue for an update: when all host genotypes become sufficiently infected, higher parasite abundance can select for lower resistance because its cost exceeds its benefit. We illustrate such a “resistance is futile” outcome with mathematical and empirical approaches. First, we analyzed an eco-evolutionary model of parasites, hosts, and hosts’ resources. We determined eco-evolutionary outcomes for prevalence, host density, and resistance (mathematically, “transmission rate”) along ecological and trait gradients that alter parasite abundance. With high enough parasite abundance, hosts evolve lower resistance, amplifying infection prevalence and decreasing host density. In support of these results, a higher supply of nutrients drove larger epidemics of survival-reducing fungal parasites in a mesocosm experiment. In two-genotype treatments, zooplankton hosts evolved less resistance under high-nutrient conditions than under low-nutrient conditions. Less resistance, in turn, was associated with higher infection prevalence and lower host density. Finally, in an analysis of naturally occurring epidemics, we found a broad, bimodal distribution of epidemic sizes consistent with the resistance is futile prediction of the eco-evolutionary model. Together, the model and experiment, supplemented by the field pattern, support predictions that drivers of high parasite abundance can lead to the evolution of lower resistance. Hence, under certain conditions, the most fit strategy for individual hosts exacerbates prevalence and depresses host populations. 
    more » « less
  3. ABSTRACT A central challenge in the fields of evolutionary immunology and disease ecology is to understand the causes and consequences of natural variation in host susceptibility to infectious diseases. As hosts progress from birth to death in the wild, they are exposed to a wide variety of microorganisms that influence their physical condition, immune system maturation, and susceptibility to concurrent and future infection. Thus, multiple exposures to the same or different microbes can be important environmental drivers of host immunological variation and immune priming. In this perspective, I discuss parasite infracommunity interactions and their imprint on host immunity in space and time. I further consider feedbacks from parasite community dynamics within individual hosts on the transmission of disease at higher levels of biological organization and highlight the promise of systems biology approaches, using flour beetles as an example, for studying the role of multiple infections on immunological variation in wild populations. 
    more » « less
  4. null (Ed.)
    Abstract An animal's social behaviour both influences and changes in response to its parasites. Here we consider these bidirectional links between host social behaviours and parasite infection, both those that occur from ecological vs evolutionary processes. First, we review how social behaviours of individuals and groups influence ecological patterns of parasite transmission. We then discuss how parasite infection, in turn, can alter host social interactions by changing the behaviour of both infected and uninfected individuals. Together, these ecological feedbacks between social behaviour and parasite infection can result in important epidemiological consequences. Next, we consider the ways in which host social behaviours evolve in response to parasites, highlighting constraints that arise from the need for hosts to maintain benefits of sociality while minimizing fitness costs of parasites. Finally, we consider how host social behaviours shape the population genetic structure of parasites and the evolution of key parasite traits, such as virulence. Overall, these bidirectional relationships between host social behaviours and parasites are an important yet often underappreciated component of population-level disease dynamics and host–parasite coevolution. 
    more » « less
  5. Abstract

    Parasite transmission is thought to depend on both parasite exposure and host susceptibility to infection; however, the relative contribution of these two factors to epidemics remains unclear. We used interactions between an aquatic host and its fungal parasite to evaluate how parasite exposure and host susceptibility interact to drive epidemics. In six lakes, we tracked the following factors from pre‐epidemic to epidemic emergence: (1) parasite exposure (measured observationally as fungal spores attacking wild‐caught hosts), (2) host susceptibility (measured experimentally as the number of fungal spores required to produce terminal infection), (3) host susceptibility traits (barrier resistance and internal clearance, both quantified with experimental assays), and (4) parasite prevalence (measured observationally from wild‐caught hosts). Tracking these factors over 6 months and in almost 7,000 wild‐caught hosts provided key information on the drivers of epidemics. We found that epidemics depended critically on the interaction of exposure and susceptibility; epidemics only emerged when a host population’s level of exposure exceeded its individuals’ capacity for recovery. Additionally, we found that host internal clearance traits (the hemocyte response) were critical in regulating epidemics. Our study provides an empirical demonstration of how parasite exposure and host susceptibility interact to inhibit or drive disease in natural systems and demonstrates that epidemics can be delayed by asynchronicity in the two processes. Finally, our results highlight how individual host traits can scale up to influence broad epidemiological patterns.

    more » « less