Experimental measures of pathogen competition and relative fitness

Annu Rev Phytopathol. 2013;51:131-53. doi: 10.1146/annurev-phyto-082712-102302. Epub 2013 Jun 13.


Competition among pathogen strains for limited host resources can have a profound effect on pathogen evolution. A better understanding of the principles and consequences of competition can be useful in designing more sustainable disease management strategies. The competitive ability and relative fitness of a pathogen strain are determined by its intrinsic biological properties, the resistance and heterogeneity of the corresponding host population, the population density and genetic relatedness of the competing strains, and the physical environment. Competitive ability can be inferred indirectly from fitness components, such as basic reproduction rate or transmission rate. However, pathogen strains that exhibit higher fitness components when they infect a host alone may not exhibit a competitive advantage when they co-infect the same host. The most comprehensive measures of competitive ability and relative fitness come from calculating selection coefficients in a mixed infection in a field setting. Mark-release-recapture experiments can be used to estimate fitness costs associated with unnecessary virulence and fungicide resistance.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Biological Evolution
  • Fungi / pathogenicity
  • Fungi / physiology*
  • Host-Pathogen Interactions
  • Microbial Interactions
  • Oomycetes / pathogenicity
  • Oomycetes / physiology*
  • Plant Diseases / microbiology*
  • Plant Diseases / prevention & control
  • Plant Viruses / pathogenicity
  • Plant Viruses / physiology*
  • Plants / immunology
  • Plants / microbiology*
  • Virulence