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Investment in immune defense is linked to pace of life in house sparrows

  • LB Martin II
  • Dennis Hasselquist
  • M Wikelski
Publishing year: 2006
Language: English
Pages: 565-575
Publication/Series: Oecologia
Volume: 147
Issue: 4
Document type: Journal article
Publisher: Springer

Abstract english

The evidence for a relationship between life history and immune defense is equivocal, although the basic premise is intuitively appealing: animals that live short lives and reproduce early and rapidly should not waste resources on defenses they might never use. One possible reason for a lack of strong support for this hypothesis could be the inherent complexity of the vertebrate immune system. Indeed, different components of the vertebrate immune system vary in their relative costs and benefits, and therefore only some defenses may complement variation in species' life history. To address this hypothesis, we compared multiple types of immune activity between two populations of house sparrows (Passer domesticus) with distinct life histories, one from Colon, Panama, which lay small clutches over an extended breeding season (i.e., slow-living) and the other from Princeton, New Jersey, which lay larger clutches in a smaller window of time (i.e., fast-living). We expected (a) that more costly types of immune defenses would be stronger in the slow-living sparrows and (2) that the slow-living sparrows would show a greater increase in whole-body energy expenditure after immune challenge compared to their fast-living counterparts. We found that secondary antibody response to a novel antigen was more rapid and energetic investment in immune activity was greater in slow-living sparrows. However, cell-mediated immune activity was more robust in fast-living sparrows, and other measures of defense were not different between populations. These results provide partial support for a relationship between life history and immune defense in this species, but they also indicate that this relationship is not clear-cut. Further study is necessary to identify the influence of other factors, particular pathogen environment during development, on the architecture of the immune system of wild animals.


  • Biological Sciences


  • Molecular Ecology and Evolution Lab
  • ISSN: 1432-1939
Dennis Hasselquist
E-mail: dennis [dot] hasselquist [at] biol [dot] lu [dot] se



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