Is cell–mediated immunity related to the evolution of life-history strategies in birds?

J/ L. Tella, A. Scheuerlein, R. E. Ricklefs

Abstract

According to life–history theory, the development of immune function should be balanced through evolutionary optimization of the allocation of resources to reproduction and through mechanisms that promote survival. We investigated interspecific variability in cell–mediated immune response (CMI), as measured by the phytohaemagglutinin (PHA) assay, in relation to clutch size, longevity and other life–history traits in 50 species of birds. CMI exhibited significant repeatability within species, and PHA responses in chicks were consistently stronger than in adults. Univariate tests showed a variety of significant relationships between the CMI of both chicks and adults with respect to size, development period and lifespan, but not clutch size or prevalence of blood parasites in adults. Multivariate analyses confirmed these patterns but independent variables were too highly correlated to isolate unique influences on CMI. The positive relationship of chick CMI to nestling period is further complicated by a parallel relationship of chick CMI to the age at testing. However, multivariate analysis showed that chick CMI varies uniquely with length of the nestling period. Adult CMI was associated with a strong life–history axis of body size, development rate and longevity. Therefore, adult CMI may be associated with prevention and repair mechanisms related to long lifespan, but it also may be allometrically related to body size through other pathways. Neither chick CMI nor adult CMI was related to clutch size, contradicting previous results linking parasite–related mortality to CMI and the evolution of clutch size (reproductive investment) in birds.

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