The Evolution of the Age of Onset of Resistance to Infectious Disease

Lydia J. Buckingham, Ben Ashby

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (SciVal)


Many organisms experience an increase in disease resistance as they age but the time of life at which this change occurs varies. Increases in resistance are partially due to prior exposure and physiological constraints but these cannot fully explain the observed patterns of age-related resistance. An alternative explanation is that developing resistance at an earlier age incurs costs to other life-history traits. Here, we explore how trade-offs with host reproduction or mortality affect the evolution of the onset of resistance, depending on when during the host’s life-cycle the costs are paid (only when resistance is developing, only when resistant or throughout the lifetime). We find that the timing of the costs is crucial to determining evolutionary outcomes, often making the difference between resistance developing at an early or late age. Accurate modelling of biological systems therefore relies on knowing not only the shape of trade-offs but also when they take effect. We also find that the evolution of the rate of onset of resistance can result in evolutionary branching. This provides an alternative, possible evolutionary history of populations which are dimorphic in disease resistance, where the rate of onset of resistance has diversified rather than the level of resistance.
Original languageEnglish
Article number42
Number of pages19
JournalBulletin of Mathematical Biology
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 15 Apr 2023

Bibliographical note

Ben Ashby is supported by the Natural Environment Research Council (Grant Nos. NE/N014979/1 and NE/V003909/1). This research was generously supported by a Milner Scholarship PhD grant to Lydia Buckingham from The Evolution Education Trust. We acknowledge the support of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC). Nous remercions le Conseil de recherches en sciences naturelles et en génie du Canada (CRSNG) de son soutien. PIPPS receives funding from the BC Ministry of Health

Data Availability
The source code generated and analysed during the current study is available in the GitHub repository at:


  • Adult
  • Juvenile
  • Parasite
  • Pathogen
  • Resistance
  • Susceptibility

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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