Contrasting consequences of different defence strategies in a natural multihost-parasite system

Int J Parasitol. 2018 May;48(6):445-455. doi: 10.1016/j.ijpara.2017.11.001. Epub 2018 Jan 31.


Hosts counteract infections using two distinct defence strategies, resistance (reduction in pathogen fitness) and tolerance (limitation of infection damage). These strategies have been minimally investigated in multi-host systems, where they may vary across host species, entailing consequences both for hosts (virulence) and parasites (transmission). Comprehending the interplay among resistance, tolerance, virulence and parasite success is highly relevant for our understanding of the ecology and evolution of infectious and parasitic diseases. Our work investigated the interaction between an insect parasite and its most common bird host species, focusing on two relevant questions: (i) are defence strategies different between main and alternative hosts and, (ii) what are the consequences (virulence and parasite success) of different defence strategies? We conducted a matched field experiment and longitudinal studies at the host and the parasite levels under natural conditions, using a system comprising Philornis torquans flies and three bird hosts - the main host and two of the most frequently used alternative hosts. We found that main and alternative hosts have contrasting defence strategies, which gave rise in turn to contrasting virulence and parasite success. In the main bird host, minor loss of fitness, no detectable immune response, and high parasite success suggest a strategy of high tolerance and negligible resistance. Alternative hosts, on the contrary, resisted by mounting inflammatory responses, although with very different efficiency, which resulted in highly dissimilar parasite success and virulence. These results show clearly distinct defence strategies between main and alternative hosts in a natural multi-host system. They also highlight the importance of defence strategies in determining virulence and infection dynamics, and hint that defence efficiency is a crucial intervening element in these processes.

Keywords: Arms race; Disease ecology; Host selection: Host switch; Reservoir host; Species jump.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Argentina
  • Bird Diseases / epidemiology
  • Bird Diseases / immunology
  • Bird Diseases / parasitology*
  • Birds
  • Disease Susceptibility
  • Forests
  • Host Specificity
  • Muscidae / physiology*
  • Myiasis / epidemiology
  • Myiasis / immunology
  • Myiasis / parasitology
  • Myiasis / veterinary*