Disease tolerance alters host competence in a wild songbird


Individuals can express a range of disease phenotypes during infection, with important implications for epidemics. Tolerance, in particular, is a host response that minimizes the per-pathogen fitness costs of infection. Because tolerant hosts show milder clinical signs and higher survival, despite similar pathogen burdens, their potential for prolonged pathogen shedding may facilitate the spread of pathogens. To test this, we simulated outbreaks of mycoplasmal conjunctivitis in house finches, asking how the speed of transmission varied with tissue-specific and behavioural components of tolerance, milder conjunctivitis and anorexia for a given pathogen load, respectively. Because tissue-specific tolerance hinders pathogen deposition onto bird feeders, important transmission hubs, we predicted it would slow transmission. Because behavioural tolerance should increase interactions with bird feeders, we predicted it would speed transmission. Our findings supported these predictions, suggesting that variation in tolerance could help identify individuals most likely to transmit pathogens.

Publication Title

Biology Letters