Royal Society Publishing

Immunological investments reflect parasite abundance in island populations of Darwin's finches

Karin M. Lindström, Johannes Foufopoulos, Henrik Pärn, Martin Wikelski


The evolution of parasite resistance can be influenced by the abundance of parasites in the environment. However, it is yet unresolved whether vertebrates change their investment in immune function in response to variation in parasite abundance. Here, we compare parasite abundance in four populations of small ground finches (Geospiza fuliginosa) in the Galapagos archipelago. We predicted that populations exposed to high parasite loads should invest more in immune defence, or alternatively use a different immunological defence strategy. We found that parasite prevalence and/or infection intensity increased with island size. As predicted, birds on large islands had increased concentrations of natural antibodies and mounted a strong specific antibody response faster than birds on smaller islands. By contrast, the magnitude of cell–mediated immune responses decreased with increasing parasite pressure, i.e. on larger islands. The data support the hypothesis that investments into the immune defence are influenced by parasite–mediated selection. Our results are consistent with the hypothesis that different immunological defence strategies are optimal in parasite–rich and parasite–poor environments.

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