Natural Selection on Antihelminth Antibodies in a Wild Mammal Population

Alexandra M Sparks, Kathryn Watt, Rona Sinclair, Jill G Pilkington, Josephine M Pemberton, Susan E Johnston, Tom N McNeilly, Daniel H Nussey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

An effective immune response is expected to confer fitness benefits through improved resistance to parasites but also incur energetic costs that negatively impact fitness-related traits, such as reproduction. The fitness costs and benefits of an immune response are likely to depend on host age, sex, and levels of parasite exposure. Few studies have examined the full extent to which patterns of natural selection on immune phenotypes vary across demographic groups and environments in the wild. Here, we assessed natural selection on plasma levels of three functionally distinct isotypes (IgA, IgE, and IgG) of antibodies against a prevalent nematode parasite measured in a wild Soay sheep population over 26 years. We found little support for environment-dependent selection or reproductive costs. However, antibody levels were negatively associated with parasite egg counts and positively associated with subsequent survival, albeit in a highly age- and isotype-dependent manner. Raised levels of antiparasite IgA best predicted reduced egg counts, but this did not predict survival in lambs. In adults increased antiparasite IgG predicted reduced egg counts, and in adult females IgG levels also positively predicted overwinter survival. Our results highlight the potential importance of age- and sex-dependent selection on immune phenotypes in nature and show that patterns of selection can vary even among functionally related immune markers.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)745-760
Number of pages16
JournalThe American Naturalist
Issue number6
Early online date10 Oct 2018
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2018


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