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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

The expression and evolution of virulence in multiple infections: the role of specificity, relative virulence and relative dose

Frida Ben-Ami* and Jarkko Routtu

Author Affiliations

Department of Zoology, George S. Wise Faculty of Life Sciences, Tel Aviv University, Tel Aviv, 6997801, Israel

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2013, 13:97  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-13-97

Published: 3 May 2013



Multiple infections of the same host by different strains of the same microparasite species are believed to play a crucial role during the evolution of parasite virulence. We investigated the role of specificity, relative virulence and relative dose in determining the competitive outcome of multiple infections in the Daphnia magna-Pasteuria ramosa host-parasite system.


We found that infections by P. ramosa clones (single genotype) were less virulent and produced more spores than infections by P. ramosa isolates (possibly containing multiple genotypes). We also found that two similarly virulent isolates of P. ramosa differed considerably in their within-host competitiveness and their effects on host offspring production when faced with coinfecting P. ramosa isolates and clones. Although the relative virulence of a P. ramosa isolate/clone appears to be a good indicator of its competitiveness during multiple infections, the relative dose may alter the competitive outcome. Moreover, spore counts on day 20 post-infection indicate that the competitive outcome is largely decided early in the parasite’s growth phase, possibly mediated by direct interference or apparent competition.


Our results emphasize the importance of epidemiology as well as of various parasite traits in determining the outcome of within-host competition. Incorporating realistic epidemiological and ecological conditions when testing theoretical models of multiple infections, as well as using a wider range of host and parasite genotypes, will enable us to better understand the course of virulence evolution.