Host Controls of within-host Disease Dynamics: Insight from an Invertebrate System

Tara E.Stewart Merrill, Zoi Rapti, Carla E. Cáceres

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Within-host processes (representing the entry, establishment, growth, and development of a parasite inside its host) may play a key role in parasite transmission but remain challenging to observe and quantify. We develop a general model for measuring host defenses and within-host disease dynamics. Our stochastic model breaks the infection process down into the stages of parasite exposure, entry, and establishment and provides associated probabilities for a host’s ability to resist infections with barriers and clear internal infections. We tested our model on Daphnia dentifera and the parasitic fungus Metschnikowia bicuspidata and found that when faced with identical levels of parasite exposure, Daphnia patent (transmitting) infections depended on the strength of internal clearance.Applying a Gillespie algorithm to the model-estimated probabilities allowed us to visualize within-host dynamics, within which signatures of host defense could be clearly observed. We also found that early within-host stages were the most vulnerable to internal clearance, suggesting that hosts have a limited window during which recovery can occur. Our study demonstrates how pairing longitudinal infection data with a simple model can reveal new insight into withinhost dynamics and mechanisms of host defense. Our model and methodological approach may be a powerful tool for exploring these properties in understudied host-parasite interactions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)317-332
Number of pages16
JournalAmerican Naturalist
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2021


  • Daphnia
  • Host resistance
  • Invertebrate immunology
  • Markov model
  • Metschnikowia
  • Within-host dynamics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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