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J Anim Ecol. 2009 Nov;78(6):1242-8. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2656.2009.01587.x. Epub 2009 Jul 20.

A test of life-history theories of immune defence in two ecotypes of the garter snake, Thamnophis elegans.

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Department of Ecology, Evolution & Organismal Biology, Iowa State University, Ames, IA 50010, USA.


1. Life-history theorists have long observed that fast growth and high reproduction tend to be associated with short life span, suggesting that greater investment in such traits may trade off with self-maintenance. The immune system plays an integral role in self-maintenance and has been proposed as a mediator of life-history trade-offs. 2. Ecoimmunologists have predicted that fast-living organisms should rely more heavily on constitutive innate immunity than slow-living organisms, as constitutive innate defences are thought to be relatively inexpensive to develop and can provide a rapid, general response to pathogens. 3. We present the first study to examine this hypothesis in an ectothermic vertebrate, by testing for differences in three aspects of constitutive innate immunity in replicate populations of two life-history ecotypes of the garter snake Thamnophis elegans, one fast-living and one slow-living. 4. As predicted, free-ranging snakes from the fast-living ecotype had higher levels of all three measures of constitutive innate immunity than the slow-living ecotype. These differences in immunity were not explained by parasite loads measured. Furthermore, both ecotypes exhibited a positive relationship between innate immunity and body size/age, which we discuss in the context of ectotherm physiology and ecotype differences in developmental rates.

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