Living fast and dying of infection: host life history drives interspecific variation in infection and disease risk

Ecol Lett. 2012 Mar;15(3):235-42. doi: 10.1111/j.1461-0248.2011.01730.x. Epub 2012 Jan 5.


Parasite infections often lead to dramatically different outcomes among host species. Although an emerging body of ecoimmunological research proposes that hosts experience a fundamental trade-off between pathogen defences and life-history activities, this line of inquiry has rarely been extended to the most essential outcomes of host-pathogen interactions: namely, infection and disease pathology. Using a comparative experimental approach involving 13 amphibian host species and a virulent parasite, we test the hypothesis that 'pace-of-life' predicts parasite infection and host pathology. Trematode exposure increased mortality and malformations in nine host species. After accounting for evolutionary history, species that developed quickly and metamorphosed smaller ('fast-species') were particularly prone to infection and pathology. This pattern likely resulted from both weaker host defences and greater adaptation by parasites to infect common hosts. Broader integration between life history theory and disease ecology can aid in identifying both reservoir hosts and species at risk of disease-driven declines.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Amphibians / parasitology*
  • Animals
  • Body Weight
  • Echinostomatidae / pathogenicity
  • Host-Parasite Interactions*
  • Larva / parasitology
  • Life Cycle Stages
  • Metamorphosis, Biological
  • Parasite Load
  • Species Specificity
  • Trematoda / pathogenicity*