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J Evol Biol. 2017 May;30(5):960-967. doi: 10.1111/jeb.13060. Epub 2017 Mar 29.

Life history, immunity, Peto's paradox and tumours in birds.

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Ecologie, Systématique Evolution, CNRS UMR 8079, Université Paris-Sud, Orsay Cedex, France.
Taps Old Rectory, Christiansfeld, Denmark.
Depto. Ecología Funcional y Evolutiva, Estación Experimental de Zonas Áridas (C.S.I.C.), Almería, Spain.


Cancer and tumours may evolve in response to life-history trade-offs between growth and duration of development on one hand, and between growth and maintenance of immune function on the other. Here, we tested whether (i) bird species with slow developmental rates for their body size experience low incidence of tumours because slow development allows for detection of rapid proliferation of cell lineages. We also test whether (ii) species with stronger immune response during development are more efficient at detecting tumour cells and hence suffer lower incidence of tumours. Finally, we tested Peto's paradox, that there is a positive relationship between tumour incidence and body mass. We used information on developmental rates and body mass from the literature and of tumour incidence (8468 birds) and size of the bursa of Fabricius for 7659 birds brought to a taxidermist in Denmark. We found evidence of the expected negative relationship between incidence of tumours and developmental rates and immunity after controlling for the positive association between tumour incidence and body size. These results suggest that evolution has modified the incidence of tumours in response to life history and that Peto's paradox may be explained by covariation between body mass, developmental rates and immunity.


Peto's paradox; birds; incubation period; nestling period; tumours

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