Ecological immunology in a ﬂuctuating environment: an integrative analysis of tree swallow nestling immune defense
Pigeon, Gabriel; Bélisle, Marc; Garant, Dany; Cohen, Alan; Pelletier, Fanie
Abstract : Evolutionary ecologists have long been interested by the link between different immune defenses and ﬁtness. Given the importance of a proper immune defense for survival, it is important to understand how its numerous components are affected by environmental heterogeneity. Previous studies targeting this question have rarely considered more than two immune markers. In this study, we measured seven immune markers (response to phytohemagglutinin (PHA), hemolysis capacity, hemagglutination capacity, plasma bactericidal capacity, percentage of lymphocytes, percentage of heterophils, and percentage of eosinophils) in tree swallow (Tachycineta bicolor) nestlings raised in two types of agro-ecosystems of contrasted quality and over 2 years. First, we assessed the effect of environmental heterogeneity (spatial and temporal) on the strength and direction of correlations between immune measures. Second, we investigated the effect of an immune score integrating information from several immune markers on individual performance (including growth, mass at ﬂedging and parasite burden). Both a multivariate and a pair-wise approach showed variation in relationships between immune measures across years and habitats. We also found a weak association between the integrated score of nestling immune function and individual performance, but only under certain environmental conditions. We conclude that the ecological context can strongly affect the interpretation of immune defenses in the wild. Given that spatiotemporal variations are likely to affect individual immune defenses, great caution should be used when generalizing conclusions to other study systems.
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