Physiological proteins in resource-limited herbivores experiencing a population die-off

Romain Garnier, Ana I. Bento, C Hansen, J G Pilkington, J M Pemberton, A L Graham

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Nutrient availability is predicted to interact with herbivore population densities. Competition for low quality food at high density may reduce summer food intake, and in turn winter survival. Conversely, low population density may favor physiological recovery through better access to better quality spring forage. Here, we take advantage of the long-term study of the Soay sheep population of St. Kilda (Scotland) to measure plasma protein markers and immunity in two consecutive summers with contrasting population densities. We show that, following a winter die-off resulting in a shift to low population density, albumin and total proteins increased, but only in adult sheep. The effect was not solely attributable to selective disappearance of malnourished sheep. Similarly, the concentration of antibodies was higher following the die-off, potentially indicating recovery of immune function. Overall, our results are consistent with the physiological recovery of surviving individuals after a harsh winter.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages5
JournalThe Science of Nature
Issue number7-8
Early online date31 Jul 2017
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2017

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • Animals
  • Herbivory
  • Population Density
  • Scotland
  • Seasons
  • Sheep
  • Soay sheep
  • Nutritional ecology
  • Ovis aries
  • Disease ecology


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