Hosts are armed with several lines of defence in the battle against parasites: they may prevent the establishment of infection, reduce parasite growth once infected or persevere through mechanisms that reduce the damage caused by infection, called tolerance. Studies on tolerance in animals have focused on mortality, and sterility tolerance has not been investigated experimentally. Here, we tested for genetic variation in the multiple steps of defence when the invertebrate Daphnia magna is infected with the sterilizing bacterial pathogen Pasteuria ramosa: anti-infection resistance, anti-growth resistance and the ability to tolerate sterilization once infected. When exposed to nine doses of a genetically diverse pathogen inoculum, six host genotypes varied in their average susceptibility to infection and in their parasite loads once infected. How host fecundity changed with increasing parasite loads did not vary between genotypes, indicating that there was no genetic variation for this measure of fecundity tolerance. However, genotypes differed in their level of fecundity compensation under infection, and we discuss how, by increasing host fitness without targeting parasite densities, fecundity compensation is consistent with the functional definition of tolerance. Such infection-induced life-history shifts are not traditionally considered to be part of the immune response, but may crucially reduce harm (in terms of fitness loss) caused by disease, and are a distinct source of selection on pathogens.
- fecundity compensation