Host-pathogen interactions in a varying environment: Temperature, behavioural fever and fitness

Sam L. Elliot, Simon Blanford, Matthew B. Thomas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

175 Scopus citations


We demonstrate how variable temperatures, mediated by host thermoregulation and behavioural fever, critically affect the interaction between a host (the desert locust, Schistocerca gregaria) and a pathogen (the fungus Metarhizium anisopliae var. acridum). By means of behavioural thermoregulation, infected locusts can raise their body temperatures to fever levels. The adaptive value of this behaviour was examined using three thermal regimes wherein maximum body temperatures achievable were: (i) below, or (ii) at normally preferred temperatures, or were (iii) unrestricted, allowing heightened fever temperatures. All infected locusts ultimately succumbed to disease, with median survival times of 8, 15 and 21 days post-infection, respectively. Crucially, only those locusts able to fever produced viable offspring. This represents, to our knowledge, the first demonstration of the adaptive value of behavioural fever following infection with a naturally occurring pathogen. By contrast, although normal host thermoregulation moderately reduced pathogen reproduction (by 35%), there was no additional negative effect of fever, resulting in an asymmetry in the fitness consequences of fever for the host and the pathogen. The dependency of the host-pathogen interaction upon external abiotic conditions has implications for how virulence and resistance are treated both theoretically and in the management of pests and diseases.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1599-1607
Number of pages9
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1500
StatePublished - Aug 7 2002

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)
  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


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