Maximising fitness in the face of parasites: a review of host tolerance
Kutzer MA, Armitage SAO – 2016
Tolerance, the ability of a host to limit the negative fitness effects of a given parasite load, is now recognised as an important host defence strategy in animals. Together with resistance, the ability of a host to limit parasite load, these two host strategies represent two disparate host responses to parasites, each with different predicted evolutionary consequences: resistance is predicted to reduce parasite prevalence, whereas tolerance could be neutral towards, or increase, parasite prevalence in a population. The distinction between these two strategies might have far-reaching epidemiological consequences. Classically, a reaction norm defines host tolerance because it depicts the change in host fitness as a function of parasite load, where a shallow negative slope indicates that host fitness slowly deteriorates as parasite load increases (i.e., high tolerance). Despite the fact that tolerance was only recently acknowledged to be an important component in an animal's immune repertoire, it is frequently referenced, so our aim is to emphasise the current advances on the topic. We begin by summarising the ways in which biologists measure the two components of tolerance, parasite load and fitness, as well as the ways in which the concept has been defined (i.e., point and range tolerance). It is common to test for variation in host tolerance according to intrinsic, innate factors, where variation exists among populations, genders or genotypes. Such variation in tolerance is pervasive across animal taxa, and we briefly review some of the mechanistic bases of variation that have recently begun to be explored. Three further novel advancements in the tolerance field are the appreciation of the role of extrinsic, environmental factors on tolerance, host tolerance in multi-host-parasite systems and individual-based approaches to tolerance measures. We explore these topics using recent examples and suggest some future perspectives. It is becoming increasingly clear that an appreciation of tolerance as a defence strategy can provide significant insights into how hosts coexist with parasites.