Coevolution of Age-Structured Tolerance and Virulence

Lydia Buckingham, Ben Ashby

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


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.
Original languageEnglish
Article number62
Number of pages17
JournalBulletin of Mathematical Biology
Issue number6
Early online date25 Apr 2024
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 25 Apr 2024

Data Availability Statement

Source code is available in the GitHub repository at:


  • Adult
  • Age-structure
  • Host
  • Juvenile
  • Parasite
  • Pathogen

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Mathematics(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Pharmacology
  • Computational Theory and Mathematics
  • Immunology


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