Hosts can in principle employ two different strategies to defend themselves against parasites: resistance and tolerance. Animals typically exhibit considerable genetic variation for resistance (the ability to limit parasite burden). However, little is known about whether animals can evolve tolerance (the ability to limit the damage caused by a given parasite burden). Using rodent malaria in laboratory mice as a model system and the statistical framework developed by plant-pathogen biologists, we demonstrated genetic variation for tolerance, as measured by the extent to which anemia and weight loss increased with increasing parasite burden. Moreover, resistance and tolerance were negatively genetically correlated. These results mean that animals, like plants, can evolve two conceptually different types of defense, a finding that has important implications for the understanding of the epidemiology and evolution of infectious diseases.
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