The patterns of immunity conferred by host sex or age represent two sources of host heterogeneity that can potentially shape the evolutionary trajectory of disease. With each host sex or age encountered, a pathogen's optimal exploitative strategy may change, leading to considerable variation in expression of pathogen transmission and virulence. To date, these host characteristics have been studied in the context of host fitness alone, overlooking the effects of host sex and age on the fundamental virulence–transmission trade-off faced by pathogens. Here, we explicitly address the interaction of these characteristics and find that host sex and age at exposure to a pathogen affect age-specific patterns of mortality and the balance between pathogen transmission and virulence. When infecting age-structured male and female Daphnia magna with different genotypes of Pasteuria ramosa, we found that infection increased mortality rates across all age classes for females, whereas mortality only increased in the earliest age class for males. Female hosts allowed a variety of trade-offs between transmission and virulence to arise with each age and pathogen genotype. In contrast, this variation was dampened in males, with pathogens exhibiting declines in both virulence and transmission with increasing host age. Our results suggest that differences in exploitation potential of males and females to a pathogen can interact with host age to allow different virulence strategies to coexist, and illustrate the potential for these widespread sources of host heterogeneity to direct the evolution of disease in natural populations.
- age-structured interactions
- genotype-by-environment interactions
- host–pathogen interactions
- optimal virulence
- sexual dimorphism
- virulence–transmission trade-off