Social information use shapes the coevolution of sociality and virulence

Ben Ashby, Damien R. Farine

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Social contacts can facilitate the spread of both survival-related information and infectious diseases, but little is known about how these processes combine to shape host and parasite evolution. Here, we use a theoretical model that captures both infection and information transmission processes to investigate how host sociality (contact effort) and parasite virulence (disease-associated mortality rate) (co)evolve. We show that selection for sociality (and in turn, virulence) depends on both the intrinsic costs and benefits of social information and infection as well as their relative prevalence in the population. Specifically, greater sociality and lower virulence evolve when the risk of infection is either low or high and social information is neither very common nor too rare. Lower sociality and higher virulence evolve when the prevalence patterns are reversed. When infection and social information are both at moderate levels in the population, the direction of selection depends on the relative costs and benefits of being infected or informed. We also show that sociality varies inversely with virulence, and that parasites may be unable to prevent runaway selection for higher contact efforts. Together, these findings provide new insights for our understanding of group living and how apparently opposing ecological processes can influence the evolution of sociality and virulence in a range of ways.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1153-1169
Number of pages17
Issue number6
Early online date14 Apr 2022
Publication statusPublished - 30 Jun 2022


  • coevolution
  • contact rate
  • infectious disease
  • social information
  • sociality
  • virulence

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


Dive into the research topics of 'Social information use shapes the coevolution of sociality and virulence'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this