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PLoS One. 2014 Sep 25;9(9):e108268. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0108268. eCollection 2014.

Immune profile predicts survival and reflects senescence in a small, long-lived mammal, the greater sac-winged bat (Saccopteryx bilineata).

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Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research, Berlin, Germany; Freie Universität Berlin, Department Animal Behaviour, Berlin, Germany.
Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research, Berlin, Germany.


The immune system imposes costs that may have to be traded against investment of resources in other costly life-history traits. Yet, it is unknown if a trade-off between immunity and longevity occurs in free-ranging mammals. Here, we tested if age and survival, two aspects associated with longevity, are linked to immune parameters in an 8 g bat species. Using a combination of cross-sectional and longitudinal data, we assessed whether total white blood cell (WBC) counts, bacterial killing ability of the plasma (BKA) and immunoglobulin G (IgG) concentration change with age. Furthermore, we asked if these immune parameters impose costs resulting in decreased survival probabilities. We found that WBC counts decreased with age both within and among individuals. IgG concentrations were higher in older individuals, but did not change with age within individuals. Furthermore, individuals with above average WBC counts or IgG concentration had lower probabilities to survive the next six months. High WBC counts and IgG concentrations may reflect infections with parasites and pathogens, however, individuals that were infected with trypanosomes or nematodes showed neither higher WBC counts or IgG concentrations, nor was infection connected with survival rates. BKA was higher in infected compared with uninfected bats, but not related to age or survival. In conclusion, cellular (WBC) and humoral (IgG) parts of the immune system were both connected to age and survival, but not to parasite infections, which supports the hypothesis that energetically costly immunological defences are traded against other costly life-history traits, leading to a reduced lifespan in this free-ranging mammal.

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