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HOST POPULATION STRUCTURE AND THE EVOLUTION OF VIRULENCE: A "LAW OF DIMINISHING RETURNS".

Abstract

Structure in a population of host individuals, whether spatial or temporal, can have important effects on the transmission and evolutionary dynamics of its pathogens. One of these is to limit dispersal of pathogens and thus increase the amount of contact between a given pair or within a small group of host individuals. We introduce a "law of diminishing returns" that predicts an evolutionary decline of pathogen virulence whenever there are on average more possibilities of pathogen transmission between the same pair of hosts. Thus, the effect of repeated contact between hosts will be to shift the balance of any trade-off between virulence and transmissibility toward lower virulence.

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