Evolutionary ecology of transmission strategies in protozoan parasites
Pollitt, Laura C.
In recent years there has been growing interest in applying frameworks from evolutionary ecology to understand infectious disease. It is becoming increasingly apparent that the interactions between parasites within the host environment can shape parasite phenotypes underlying infection dynamics and transmission. However, the spread of the disease will crucially depend on both within-host and between-host dynamics. Bridging these scales is challenging and for vector borne parasites, such as malaria and trypanosomes, will involve gaining a much better understanding of infection dynamics both within the host and vector. I apply evolutionary ecology frameworks including social evolution, life history theory, and phenotypic plasticity to investigate how parasite phenotypes are shaped by within-host and within-vector environments and examine the implications for inhost survival and between-host transmission. Specifically, I demonstrate that; 1. Within the host; i. In accordance with theory malaria parasites detect and respond to the presence of competitors by altering reproductive strategies to maximise in-host survival. Furthermore, these strategies are fine tuned in response to variation in the within-host environment, including the availability of resources. ii. The reproductive investment strategies of malaria parasites can be applied to explain the transmission strategies of African trypanosomes. This shows how general evolutionary frameworks can be applied to a novel parasite species and demonstrates the explanatory power of an evolutionary approach. iii. The complexity of the within-host environment poses specific statistical challenges for examining the temporal dynamics of parasite life history traits that are often not adequately dealt with, potentially leading to type 1 errors. Methods to evaluate levels of autocorrelation and how to deal with it are applied to datasets of within-infection dynamics. 2. Within the vector; i. Malaria parasites undergo programmed, apoptotic cell death. The occurrence of, and putative explanation for, apoptosis in protozoan parasites is controversial. I demonstrate the importance of quantitative methods and parasite ecology in testing the evolutionary explanations for parasite apoptosis. ii. The links between within-host dynamics and within-vector dynamics are complex and can lead to counter-intuitive implications for the success of between-host transmission. Density-dependent processes result in diverse fitness costs to parasites of crowding. More broadly, these processes could explain why parasites undergo apoptosis. In general my results demonstrate, across vertebrate hosts and insect vectors, how the interactions between parasites and with their environment shapes traits important for the transmission of infectious disease.
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