Testing the role of spatial structure in ecology and evolution

Lead Research Organisation: University of Exeter
Department Name: Biosciences


Individuals tend to interact more with individuals that are close to them or in their social group. Similarly in diseases that are spread by contact, infected individuals are more likely to contact other individuals that are close by or in their social group. The disease therefore spreads spatially through the population. There has been a number of computer models that show that this spatial spread can have a major effect on the disease dynamics. Recent work has shown that this spatial structure can also have important implications to the evolution of parasites. If they spread locally, they are selected for lower transmission and virulence. It is very difficult to test this sort of theory, but we have developed an insect virus system in which we can manipulate how locally the hosts move. Our recent work using this system has confirmed the predictions of the model of the effect of space on transmission; it was lower in a more viscose population. We now want to examine the role of spatial structure on the coevolution of the host in addition to the parasite. As such we propose to build computer models and use some mathematical approximation techniques to predict the effect of local infection on host resistance. We will then test this using our insect virus system. This mixture of theory and ecological experimentation will give us a much clearer idea of the implications of different degrees of local interactions on the evolution of disease causing organisms. Given that anthropological changes are altering the mixing patterns within many populations, it is important that we understand what the implications are to wildlife and human disease.


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Best A (2014) The coevolutionary implications of host tolerance. in Evolution; international journal of organic evolution

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Best A (2010) Host resistance and coevolution in spatially structured populations in Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences

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Best A (2012) The implications of immunopathology for parasite evolution. in Proceedings. Biological sciences

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Best A (2017) Host-parasite fluctuating selection in the absence of specificity in Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences

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Boots M (2014) How specificity and epidemiology drive the coevolution of static trait diversity in hosts and parasites. in Evolution; international journal of organic evolution

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Donnelly R (2017) Host lifespan and the evolution of resistance to multiple parasites. in Journal of evolutionary biology

Related Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Award Value
NE/G006938/1 01/10/2009 31/07/2011 £408,942
NE/G006938/2 Transfer NE/G006938/1 01/08/2011 31/12/2013 £207,804
Description We have detemined the way in which long distance infectious disease transmission influences the level and type of immune defence that occurs.
Exploitation Route We are developing potentially new therapies that include an explicit spatial component
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment,Healthcare