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Ecology. 2006 Oct;87(10):2440-6.

Costs of an immune challenge and terminal investment in a long-lived bird.

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  • 1Biology Department, Faculty of Science, University of Tromsø, N-9037 Tromsø, Norway. sveinnare@gmail.com


An induced immune challenge can have two counteracting effects on an individual's reproductive investment. (1) The resource demand could increase to "fuel" the immunologic reaction, which in turn can lead to an adaptive decrease in investment in resource-costly activities, such as reproduction. One the other hand, (2) the individual could assume that the immune activity it experiences is indicative of a serious infection. The latter can lead to an adaptive increase in reproductive investment in response to the reduced prospects of survival and future reproduction, so called "terminal investment." To measure such life-history-related consequences of increased immune activity, one group of incubating female Common Eiders (Somateria mollissima) was injected with a nonpathogenic antigen (sheep red blood cells, SRBC) while controls were injected with sterile saline. The eider is a long-lived sea-duck. Females, who incubate the eggs and care for young without assistance from the male, engage in facultative anorexia during incubation leading to a large reduction in body mass. Eiders can abandon their young to other females at the cost of reduced young survival. The immune challenge resulted in a larger mass loss, a prolonged incubation period, and reduced return rate, demonstrating both short- and long-term costs of immune challenge. Additionally, in response to what might have been interpreted as reduced survival chances in immune-challenged females, these females more often tended their own brood after hatching, despite having suffered higher costs during incubation.

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