Closing the gap in the Janzen–Connell hypothesis: What determines pathogen diversity?

Marjolein Bruijning, C. Jessica E. Metcalf, Marco D. Visser

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


The high tree diversity in tropical forests has long been a puzzle to ecologists. In the 1970s, Janzen and Connell proposed that tree species (hosts) coexist due to the stabilizing actions of specialized enemies. This Janzen–Connell hypothesis was subsequently supported by theoretical studies. Yet, such studies have taken the presence of specialized pathogens for granted, overlooking that pathogen coexistence also requires an explanation. Moreover, stable ecological coexistence does not necessarily imply evolutionary stability. What are the conditions that allow Janzen–Connell effects to evolve? We link theory from community ecology, evolutionary biology and epidemiology to tackle this question, structuring our approach around five theoretical frameworks. Phenomenological Lotka–Volterra competition models provide the most basic framework, which can be restructured to include (single- or multi-)pathogen dynamics. This ecological foundation can be extended to include pathogen evolution. Hosts, of course, may also evolve, and we introduce a coevolutionary model, showing that host–pathogen coevolution can lead to highly diverse systems. Our work unpacks the assumptions underpinning Janzen–Connell and places theoretical bounds on pathogen and host ecology and evolution. The five theoretical frameworks taken together provide a stronger theoretical basis for Janzen–Connell, delivering a wider lens that can yield important insights into the maintenance of diversity in these increasingly threatened systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere14316
JournalEcology letters
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2024

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


  • Janzen–Connell hypothesis
  • SIS model
  • adaptive dynamics
  • host–parasite coevolution
  • modern coexistence theory


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