Emergence of increased frequency and severity of multiple infections by viruses due to spatial clustering of hosts

Bradford P. Taylor*, Catherine J. Penington, Joshua S. Weitz

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


Multiple virus particles can infect a target host cell. Such multiple infections (MIs) have significant and varied ecological and evolutionary consequences for both virus and host populations. Yet, the in situ rates and drivers of MIs in virus-microbe systems remain largely unknown. Here, we develop an individual-based model (IBM) of virus-microbe dynamics to probe how spatial interactions drive the frequency and nature of MIs. In our IBMs, we identify increasingly spatially correlated clusters of viruses given sufficient decreases in viral movement. We also identify increasingly spatially correlated clusters of viruses and clusters of hosts given sufficient increases in viral infectivity. The emergence of clusters is associated with an increase in multiply infected hosts as compared to expectations from an analogous mean field model. We also observe long-tails in the distribution of the multiplicity of infection in contrast to mean field expectations that such events are exponentially rare. We show that increases in both the frequency and severity of MIs occur when viruses invade a cluster of uninfected microbes. We contend that population-scale enhancement of MI arises from an aggregate of invasion dynamics over a distribution of microbe cluster sizes. Our work highlights the need to consider spatially explicit interactions as a potentially key driver underlying the ecology and evolution of virus-microbe communities.

Original languageEnglish
Article number066014
Pages (from-to)1-9
Number of pages9
JournalPhysical Biology
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • viruses
  • spatial ecology
  • individual based models
  • predator prey

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