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Costs of immunity: immune responsiveness reduces survival in a vertebrate

  • SA Hanssen
  • Dennis Hasselquist
  • I Folstad
  • KE Erikstad
Publishing year: 2004
Language: English
Pages: 925-930
Publication/Series: Royal Society of London. Proceedings B. Biological Sciences
Volume: 271
Issue: 1542
Document type: Journal article
Publisher: Royal Society

Abstract english

Immune defences are undoubtedly of great benefit to the host, reducing the impact of infectious organisms. However, mounting immune responses also entails costs, which may be measured by inducing immune responses against artificial infections. We injected common eider (Somateria mollissima) females with three different non-pathogenic antigens, sheep red blood cells (SRBC), diphtheria toxoid and tetanus toxoid, early in their incubation period. In the group of females that mounted a humoral immune response against SRBC, the return rate was only 27%, whereas the group of females that did not mount a response against SRBC had a return rate of 72%. Moreover, responding against diphtheria toxoid when also responding against SRBC led to a further reduction in return rate. These results are repeatable, as the same effect occurred independently in two study years. The severely reduced return rate of females producing antibodies against SRBC and diphtheria toxoid implies that these birds experienced considerably impaired long-term survival. This study thus documents severe costs of mounting humoral immune responses in a vertebrate. Such costs may explain why many organisms suppress immunity when under stress or when malnourished, and why infections may sometimes be tolerated without eliciting immune responses.


  • Biological Sciences


  • Molecular Ecology and Evolution Lab
  • ISSN: 1471-2954
Dennis Hasselquist
E-mail: dennis [dot] hasselquist [at] biol [dot] lu [dot] se



+46 46 222 37 08



Research group


Doctoral students and postdocs

Research fellows


Jacob Roved

PhD Students, main supervisor

PhD Students, assistant supervisor


Interview about my research in the Swedish podcast "Forskarn & jag"