Synchrony in malaria infections: How intensifying within-host competition can be adaptive

Megan A. Greischar, Andrew F. Read, Ottar N. Bjørnstad

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Malaria parasites exhibit great diversity in the coordination of their asexual life cycle within the host, ranging from asynchronous growth to tightly synchronized cycles of invasion and emergence from red blood cells. Synchronized reproduction should come at a high cost-intensifying competition among offspring-so why would some Plasmodium species engage in such behavior and others not? We use a delayed differential equation model to show that synchronized infections can be favored when (1) there is limited interference among parasites competing for red blood cells, (2) transmission success is an accelerating function of sexual parasite abundance, (3) the target of saturating immunity is short-lived, and (4) coinfections with asynchronous parasites are rare. As a consequence, synchrony may be beneficial or costly, in line with the diverse patterns of synchronization observed in natural and lab infections. By allowing us to characterize diverse temporal dynamics, the model framework provides a basis for making predictions about disease severity and for projecting evolutionary responses to interventions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)E36-E49
JournalAmerican Naturalist
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 2014

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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