Immunosenescence and its influence on reproduction in a long-lived vertebrate
Immunosenescence is a well-known phenomenon in mammal systems, but its relevance in other long-lived vertebrates is less understood. Further, the influence of age and reproductive effort on immune function in long-lived species can be challenging to assess, as long-term data are scarce and it is often difficult to sample the oldest age classes. We used the painted turtle (Chrysemys picta) to test hypotheses of immunosenescence and a trade-off between reproductive output and immune function in a population of a long-lived vertebrate that has been monitored for over 30 years. These long-term data are utilized to employ a unique approach of aging turtles with mark-recapture data and population-specific growth modeling to obtain more accurate estimates of age. We analyzed natural antibodies, lysis ability, and bactericidal competence in 126 individuals from 1 to 33 years of age captured during May and June in 2011. Older turtles exhibited greater natural antibody levels than young individuals across sexes. Young females with large clutches exhibited greater lysis ability, while older females with large clutches had decreased lysis ability, suggesting a trade-off between reproductive output and immune function conditional upon age. However, bactericidal competence increased later in the nesting season for older females. Our study rejects the hypothesis of immunosenescence in a long-lived turtle, despite evidence of actuarial and reproductive senescence in this population. Additionally, we detected mixed evidence for a trade-off between reproduction and immune health.