A comparative study of an innate immune response in Lamprologine cichlid fishes
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Social interactions facilitate pathogen transmission and increase virulence. Therefore, species that live in social groups are predicted to suffer a higher pathogen burden, to invest more heavily in immune defence against pathogens, or both. However, there are few empirical tests of whether social species indeed invest more heavily in immune defence than non-social species. In the current study, we conducted a phylogenetically controlled comparison of innate immune response in Lamprologine cichlid fishes. We focused on three species of highly social cichlids that live in permanent groups and exhibit cooperative breeding (Julidochromis ornatus, Neolamprologus pulcher and Neolamprologus savoryi) and three species of non-social cichlids that exhibit neither grouping nor cooperative behaviour (Telmatochromis temporalis, Neolamprologus tetracanthus and Neolamprologus modestus). We quantified the innate immune response by injecting wild fishes with phytohaemagglutinin (PHA), a lectin that causes a cell-mediated immune response. We predicted that the three highly social species would show a greater immune reaction to the PHA treatment, indicating higher investment in immune defence against parasites relative to the three non-social species. We found significant species-level variation in immune response, but contrary to our prediction, this variation did not correspond to social system. However, we found that immune response was correlated with territory size across the six species. Our results indicate that the common assumption of a positive relationship between social system and investment in immune function may be overly simplistic. We suggest that factors such as rates of both in-group and out-group social interactions are likely to be important mediators of the relationship between sociality and immune function.
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