Pathogen evolution when transmission and virulence are stochastic

Pooya Aavani, Sean H. Rice

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


Evolutionary processes are inherently stochastic, since we can never know with certainty exactly how many descendants an individual will leave, or what the phenotypes of those descendants will be. Despite this, models of pathogen evolution have nearly all been deterministic, treating values such as transmission and virulence as parameters that can be known ahead of time. We present a broadly applicable analytic approach for modeling pathogen evolution in which vital parameters such as transmission and virulence are treated as random variables, rather than as fixed values. Starting from a general stochastic model of evolution, we derive specific equations for the evolution of transmission and virulence, and then apply these to a particular special case; the SIR model of pathogen dynamics. We show that adding stochasticity introduces new directional components to pathogen evolution. In particular, two kinds of covariation between traits emerge as important: covariance across the population (what is usually measured), and covariance between random variables within an individual. We show that these different kinds of trait covariation can be of opposite sign and contribute to evolution in very different ways. In particular, probability covariation between random variables within an individual is sometimes a better way to capture evolutionarily important tradeoffs than is covariation across a population. We further show that stochasticity can influence pathogen evolution through directional stochastic effects, which results from the inevitable covariance between individual fitness and mean population fitness.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationStudies in Systems, Decision and Control
PublisherSpringer Science and Business Media Deutschland GmbH
Number of pages36
StatePublished - 2020

Publication series

NameStudies in Systems, Decision and Control
ISSN (Print)2198-4182
ISSN (Electronic)2198-4190


  • Directional stochastic effects
  • Pathogen evolution
  • Stochastic fitness
  • Transmission
  • Virulence


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