Immune variation during pregnancy suggests immune component‐specific costs of reproduction in a viviparous snake with disparate life‐history strategies

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Palacios, Maria
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Bronikowski, Anne
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Ecology, Evolution and Organismal Biology

The Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Organismal Biology seeks to teach the studies of ecology (organisms and their environment), evolutionary theory (the origin and interrelationships of organisms), and organismal biology (the structure, function, and biodiversity of organisms). In doing this, it offers several majors which are codirected with other departments, including biology, genetics, and environmental sciences.

The Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Organismal Biology was founded in 2003 as a merger of the Department of Botany, the Department of Microbiology, and the Department of Zoology and Genetics.

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Growing evidence suggests the existence of trade-offs between immune function and reproduction in diverse taxa. Among vertebrates, however, there is still a taxonomic bias towards studies in endotherms, particularly birds. We tested the hypothesis that reproduction entails immune-related costs in the viviparous garter snake, Thamnophis elegans, from populations that exhibit two life-history strategies, termed ecotypes, with contrasting paces of life. Between the two ecotypes, we predicted lower immune function in gravid than nongravid females of both strategies, but with relatively larger immunity costs in the ecotype that generally invests more in current reproduction. Across individuals, we predicted greater immune costs for females investing more in the present specific reproductive event (i.e., higher fecundity) irrespective of their ecotype. We assessed leukocyte profiles and measured bactericidal capacity of plasma (innate immunity) and T- and B-lymphocyte proliferation (adaptive immunity) in gravid and non-gravid females in their natural habitats. We also collected data on reproductive output from these same gravid females brought into captivity. Gravid females of both ecotypes showed lower T-lymphocyte proliferation responses to concanavalin A than non-gravid females, but no differential costs were observed between ecotypes. The remaining immune variables did not vary between gravid and non-gravid females. Among gravid females within each ecotype, those with larger reproductive output showed lower total leukocyte counts, suggesting a fecundity-dependent trade-off. Our study contributes to the comparative ecoimmunology of vertebrates by highlighting the immune component-specificity of trade-offs between reproduction and immune function and showing that costs can be fecundity-dependent in some, but not all cases.


This is the peer reviewed version of the following article: Palacios, Maria G., and Anne M. Bronikowski. "Immune variation during pregnancy suggests immune component‐specific costs of reproduction in a viviparous snake with disparate life‐history strategies." Journal of Experimental Zoology Part A: Ecological and Integrative Physiology 327, no. 8 (2017): 513-522, which has been published in final form at doi: 10.1002/jez.2137. This article may be used for non-commercial purposes in accordance with Wiley Terms and Conditions for Use of Self-Archived Versions.

Sun Jan 01 00:00:00 UTC 2017