Genetic and phenotypically flexible components of seasonal variation in immune function

Versteegh, M.A., Helm, B., Kleynhans, E., Gwinner, E. and Tieleman, I. (2014) Genetic and phenotypically flexible components of seasonal variation in immune function. Journal of Experimental Biology, 217, pp. 1510-1518. (doi: 10.1242/jeb.097105)

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Animals cope with seasonal variation in environmental factors by adjustments of physiology and life history. When seasonal variation is partly predictable, such adjustments can be based on a genetic component or be phenotypically flexible. Animals have to allocate limited resources over different demands, including immune function. Accordingly, immune traits could change seasonally. Such changes could have a genetic component that differ between environments. We tested this hypothesis in genotypically distinct groups of a widespread songbird, the stonechat (Saxicola torquata). We compared variation in immunity during one year of long-distance migrants, short-distance migrants, tropical residents and hybrids in a common garden environment. Additionally, we investigated phenotypically flexible responses to temperature by applying different temperature regimes to one group. We assessed constitutive immunity by measuring hemagglutination, hemolysis, haptoglobin and bactericidal ability against Escherichia coli and Staphylococcus aureus. Genotypic groups differed in patterns of variation of all measured immune indices except haptoglobin. Hybrids differed from, but were rarely intermediate to, parental subspecies. Temperature treatment only influenced patterns of hemolysis and bactericidal ability against E.coli. We conclude that seasonal variation in constitutive immunity has a genetic component, that heredity does not follow simple Mendelian rules, and that some immune measures are relatively rigid while others are more flexible. Furthermore, our results support the idea that seasonal variability in constitutive immunity is associated with variability in environment and annual-cycle demands. This study stresses the importance of considering seasonal variation in immune function in relation to the ecology and life history of the organism of interest.

Item Type:Articles
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Helm, Dr Barbara
Authors: Versteegh, M.A., Helm, B., Kleynhans, E., Gwinner, E., and Tieleman, I.
College/School:College of Medical Veterinary and Life Sciences > Institute of Biodiversity Animal Health and Comparative Medicine
Journal Name:Journal of Experimental Biology
Publisher:Company of Biologists
ISSN (Online):1477-9145

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