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J Anim Ecol. 2019 May 27. doi: 10.1111/1365-2656.13030. [Epub ahead of print]

Pathogen susceptibility and fitness costs explain variation in immune priming across natural populations of flour beetles.

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National Centre for Biological Sciences, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, GKVK, Bangalore, India.
Ashoka University, Sonepat, Rai, India.


In many insects, individuals primed with low doses of pathogens early in life have higher survival after exposure to the same pathogen later in life. Yet, our understanding of the evolutionary and ecological history of priming of immune response in natural insect populations is limited. Previous work demonstrated population-, sex- and stage-specific variation in the survival benefit of priming response in flour beetles (Tribolium castaneum) infected with their natural pathogen Bacillus thuringiensis. However, the evolutionary forces responsible for this natural variation remained unclear. In the present work, we tested whether the strength of the priming response (measured as the survival benefit after priming and subsequent infection, relative to unprimed controls) was associated with multiple fitness parameters and immune components across 10 flour beetle populations collected from different locations in India. Our results suggest two major selective pressures that may explain the observed inter-population variation in priming: (a) Basal pathogen susceptibility - populations that were more susceptible to infection produced a stronger priming response, and (b) Short-term early reproductive success - populations where primed females produced more offspring early in life (measured over 2 days) had lower survival benefit (measured over 120 days), suggesting a potential trade-off between early reproduction and priming response. However, the negative association between survival and reproduction is limited to priming and infection in adults, but not in larvae. While other components of beetle fitness (starvation resistance and larval development) and immune function (haemolymph antibacterial activity and antimicrobial quinone secretion) also varied widely across populations, none of them was correlated with the variation in priming responses across populations. Our work is the first systematic empirical demonstration of multiple selective pressures that may govern the evolution of immune priming in the wild. We hope that this motivates further experiments to establish the role of pathogen-imposed selection and fitness costs in the evolution of priming in natural insect populations.


insect immunity; natural populations; priming response; reproductive benefit; survival benefit


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